Dr. Elizabet Santana (’05), Mount Sinai Postdoctoral Neuropyschology Fellow

Amazing grace is the fuel that energizes caregivers who commit to providing TLC to relatives or friends who are facing maladies related to aging or unexpected medical crises. For Dr. Elizabet Santana, her compassionate acts of love for a relative charted the course to her role as a neuropsychologist.

Today the 2005 Nyack College alumna is among the ranks of postdoctoral neuropsychology fellows at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. One of America’s largest and most reputable healthcare facilities with international acclaim, Mount Sinai is a place where diversity and inclusion drives excellence—much like the nurturing environment of her alma mater. At Nyack, Liz majored in psychology and went on to graduate studies at an Ivy League school.

In addition to juggling the commitments of marriage, her role at Mount Sinai, a second job and lately, the rigorous studies for licensure, Liz took time from her busy schedule to fill us in on just how far her academic and spiritual development at Nyack College has taken her.

What is your role at Mount Sinai?
I am currently a neuropsychology postdoctoral fellow in the department of Neurology at Mount Sinai
Hospital and specialize in the cognitive assessment of adults with neurological and neurodegenerative
conditions. As a neuropsychologist, I focus on the relationship between brain structures and functions including emotions, behavior, cognition, and overall mental abilities.

Why did you decide to pursue this career track?
While in college, I was exposed to neuropsychology through a personal experience, which helped to mark my career path. A family member suffered a blunt head trauma during a terrible car accident. After two weeks in a coma, he emerged to consciousness with a multitude of physical, cognitive, and interpersonal deficits. This experience presented an opportunity for me to become involved with his rehabilitation process and to become familiar with the treatment tools that facilitated his recovery.

Through this experience, I became aware of the critical need for bilingual psychologists in our fast-growing multicultural communities. Additionally, the treatment options that exist today call for psychologists well versed in diversity and multicultural competence. To advance my knowledge and to reduce health disparities in Hispanic populations, I pursued a master’s degree in clinical psychology from Columbia University followed by a Psy.D. in Clinical Psychology from Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine (PCOM) where my training focused on interdisciplinary care and clinical neuropsychology.

In an effort to combine my clinical observations with scientific research, I have also gained experience in neuropsychological assessment, neuroimaging techniques, and empirical data analysis. I have been involved in several NIH and NIDRR-funded studies aimed at identifying and remediating cognitive difficulties in persons with Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI) Multiple Sclerosis (MS), and Human Immunodeficiency Viruses (HIV). My current research interests relate to the impact of sociocultural factors on neuropsychological test performance. Ultimately, I hope to increase the resources for and knowledge of ethnic minority rehabilitation treatments through scientific explorations, while also applying my clinical expertise to creating effective interventions that aim to improve the lives of underserved ethnic populations.

How did this translate into a ministry to serve others?
My cultural experiences and background afford me the opportunity to connect with patients and empower others. Over the course of my education and career, I have served by providing treatment and rehabilitation to patients who have suffered from neurological conditions in underserved communities. My specialized training experiences included a pre-doctoral internship at the Department of Veterans Affairs New Jersey Health Care System and a variety of hospital settings including NYU, Columbia, Bellevue and Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation. While the work can be challenging, the positive outcomes get me out of bed every day. Serving those in my community has been amazing.

What was the role of Nyack College in your personal and/or professional journey?
Nyack provided a support system that was invaluable. I applied to college shortly after my father passed away; the decision for me go to away to college meant moving away from my family at an emotionally, culturally, and financially difficult time. Nyack College offered me the opportunity to attend college on scholarship programs, which reduced the financial burden. More importantly, the people I met provided friendship, mentorship, and guidance that empowered me as a Christian Latina to pursue my goals despite challenges. Attending Nyack College was an essential part of my personal life and career development. Throughout my time there, I established long-lasting relationships, cultivated educational and spiritual goals, and found clarity in what it means to live a meaningful life.