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Dr. IleanaVargas-Rodriquez

Year of Birth / Death

b. 1960

Medical School

Albert Einstein College of Medicine


New York

Career Path

Pediatric medicine: Endocrinology
Dr. IleanaVargas-Rodriquez


Dr. Ileana Vargas-Rodriguez helped establish the pediatric component of the Naomi Berrie Diabetes Center at Columbia University Medical Center in New York.


Initially I was not thinking of becoming a doctor; I was considering being a psychologist. The university I attended required psychology and premed students take biology classes together. As I met the premed students and began learning more about becoming a doctor, I realized I could have a bigger impact on my community as a physician, thus switched my major.


Pediatric endocrinologist Ileana Vargas-Rodriguez, M.D., specializes in the prevention of type 2 diabetes and obesity. Childhood obesity predisposes people to type 2 diabetes later in life, which usually develops in adults age 40 and older. About eighty percent of adults with type 2 diabetes are overweight. Dr. Vargas-Rodriguez worries because she sees an epidemic of obesity among children and teens, particularly Latino youth, in the New York community of Washington Heights, in upper Manhattan.

Ileana Vargas was an only child whose parents migrated to New York from Puerto Rico. She grew up on Manhattan's upper west side, visiting relatives in Washington Heights. After obtaining her medical degree from Albert Einstein College of Medicine in 1986, she did her internship and residency at Babies Hospital, Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center. She completed a fellowship in pediatric endocrinology at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine from 1989 to 1992, after which she joined the staff at New York Presbyterian Hospital at Cornell Campus, where she directed the Diabetes Education Program.

Seeing a need to address the growing problem of obesity and type 2 diabetes in children, Dr. Vargas-Rodriguez helped establish the pediatric component of the Naomi Berrie Diabetes Center at Columbia University Medical Center in 1998. In addition to treating children, Dr. Vargas-Rodriguez works with their parents, explaining the health benefits of exercise and nutrition, and promotes changes in the laws to bring healthier foods, exercise classes, and affordable parks to children's schools, communities, and homes. Dr. Vargas-Rodriguez says "you can't make a change without changing the laws and I would like to be a driving force that brings healthier foods to our schools, gym classes...and safe, affordable parks for our children."

Dr. Vargas-Rodriguez is currently an assistant attending pediatrician at Babies Hospital, Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center, and an assistant clinical professor of pediatrics at Columbia University Medical Center, as well as a pediatric endocrinologist at Columbia Medical Center's Naomi Berrie Diabetes Center.

Dr. Vargas-Rodriguez is herself a concerned parent of a son and a daughter, both in their early teens. Her husband, Jose A. Rodriguez, M.D., is an orthopedic surgeon at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.

While feeling a sense of accomplishment with her career so far, Dr. Vargas-Rodriguez feels the need to keep growing as a doctor. Her goal is to exert political pressure at the local, state, and federal levels to improve the availability of healthy foods and exercise in the schools and community. She recently completed a Mid-Career Leadership Fellowship Program in Policy Analysis through the New York University School of Public Health and the National Hispanic Medical Association.

Question and Answer

What was my biggest obstacle?

Growing up in New York City in the 1970s and 1980s was an especially difficult time; the city was crime-ridden and drug use was very high in the inner city. At times it was difficult to stay focused when around you people were suffering, dropping out of school, becoming pregnant as teens, and doing drugs. My biggest inspiration during that time was my mother, who began college to become a teacher. How could you fail with such a role model?

How do I make a difference?

I feel I make a difference because I am not just a doctor. I am first a mother, wife, clinical researcher, and clinician and I use my life experiences and bring them to my job. When I am with patients, I not only take care of their chronic illnesses—namely diabetes and obesity—I am also concerned about how they are doing in school, how they are interacting with their family and friends, etc. My goal is that they are healthy and become productive individuals in their community.

Who was my mentor?

I have had many mentors/role models. First, my mother, Neldie Vargas and two of her friends: Ms. Bettye Harrell and Mrs. Joan Abrams. They made sure I had my doors open and helped and encouraged me to attend college and medical school. My grandmother Hilda Cappas, died of diabetic complications; because of her, I decided to pursue a career in endocrinology. I have had many teachers, but the one who stands out because he has been a mentor and role model is Dr. Louis Aronne, who continues to teach and encourage me, and is constantly making me a better doctor.