Dr. Christine Garcia Named Chief of Pulmonary, Allergy, and Critical Care at Columbia
Christine Kim Garcia, MD, PhD, joined NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center as Associate Chief of the Division of Pulmonary, Allergy, and Critical Care Medicine in January 2019. A preeminent clinician and researcher focused on identifying the genetic underpinnings of adult-onset lung disease, Dr. Garcia had previously served as a pulmonary and critical care specialist at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. During her first year at Columbia, Dr. Garcia was busy setting up her laboratory and establishing her clinical practice when COVID-19 descended on New York and the world.
“We had just established the laboratory and were advancing several new projects when COVID hit,” says Dr. Garcia. “We had to adjust quickly to the pandemic. In fact, we’re still making adjustments. I was drafted into the ICU as an attending and every one of us was called into action. The research fellows were deployed and given attending privileges to take care of very sick patients. Our lab was limited to having only essential personnel on site for several months. We are still staggering our hours and some of us are still working remotely in order to comply with social distancing rules. We use zoom for nearly all lab interactions, even those that would have involved a conversation in the hallway a few months ago. COVID has completely changed all of our lives.”
In that same period, Neil W. Schluger, MD, Chief of the Division of Pulmonary, Allergy, and Critical Care Medicine, stepped down to accept another position. Dr. Garcia was offered the opportunity to take on this new role and she accepted. “This is a fabulous division and I’m so proud of my colleagues, the fellows, the staff, and how the Division jumped into the fray with unflagging energy to care for patients,” says Dr. Garcia. “The reason why I came to Columbia was to be at the interface of pulmonary research and patient care. No one could have anticipated the pandemic. Now, I have experienced first-hand the incredible resilience and strength of the members of the Division, both those involved with patient care and those involved with research. That was certainly proven during the pandemic.”
During the height of the pandemic, all critical care attendings were deployed to NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia and NewYork-Presbyterian Allen Hospital located in northern Manhattan, and 86 percent of all physicians in the Division transitioned to COVID-related clinical activities. Of those, 62 percent deployed as ICU attendings, and all of the Division’s nine clinical and five research fellows were deployed as leads (a fellow with attending privileges) to either an ICU or a stepdown unit. Each intensivist had a caseload of critically ill patients and the ICU census swelled from 36 beds to 197 beds at its peak. Census for the stepdown units grew six times their normal capacity.
“The pandemic showed just how important pulmonologists and critical care specialists are in medicine. We have so many strengths in the Division of Pulmonology and Critical Care Medicine at Columbia. I couldn’t be more pleased to assume this new role with such a talented and dedicated team of colleagues.” — Dr. Christine Kim Garcia
In June 2020, Dr. Garcia officially became Chief, taking on the leadership of a vibrant and growing division that includes more than 30 full-time faculty, 14 fellows in ACGME-accredited training programs in pulmonary and critical care medicine and allergy and immunology, and clinical centers and programs in chest disease and respiratory failure, cystic fibrosis, lung transplantation, interstitial lung disease, lung cancer screening, advanced diagnostic bronchoscopy, asthma, pulmonary diagnostics and rehabilitation, bronchiectasis, acute respiratory failure, critical care medicine, and sleep and ventilatory disorders. The robust research program is comprised of 11 investigator-run laboratories and numerous clinical studies to advance the latest diagnostic and treatment approaches in pulmonary and critical care medicine.
Dr. Garcia’s own research centers on using next generation sequencing and bioinformatic analyses to discover rare mutations in genes linked to inherited forms of lung disease. These discoveries have implicated the surfactant and telomere pathways to the development of adult-onset pulmonary fibrosis. Her laboratory has shown that blood telomere length is a biomarker that predicts a number of different clinical outcomes for patients with Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis (IPF) including rate of progression, survival, and response to immunosuppressive medications. Since Dr. Garcia’s arrival to Columbia, she has been the Frode Jensen Professor of Medicine. She holds appointments within the Department of Medicine, the Institute for Genomic Medicine, and the Center for Precision Medicine and Genomics. Her current research is supported by the National Institutes of Health.
Dr. Garcia earned her MD and PhD at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, where she also completed internal medicine residency training, followed by a fellowship in pulmonary critical care. She then went on to pursue a postdoctoral research fellowship in genetics before joining the faculty at UT Southwestern Medical Center. Dr. Garcia is board certified in Pulmonary Medicine and Critical Care Medicine. She is a member of the American Society for Clinical Investigation.
“The pandemic showed just how important pulmonologists and critical care specialists are in medicine,” says Dr. Garcia. “We have so many strengths in the Division of Pulmonology and Critical Care Medicine at Columbia. I couldn’t be more pleased to assume this new role with such a talented and dedicated team of colleagues.”