Christina Ramirez, MSW ’14, was born and raised on Long Island; however, her parents are from the Dominican Republic. She discovered her passion for youth advocacy while still an adolescent herself: at nineteen, she began spending her summers working at a sleep-away camp for at-risk youth.
Following her graduation from Iona College, she relocated to the Dominican Republic for a year to teach ninth-grade English. She returned to the States in August 2008 and accepted a position as a substitute teacher and administrative assistant at a high school in the South Bronx.
In 2010, Ramirez received a sobering diagnosis of advanced Hodgkins Lymphoma (Stage III). She underwent eight months of intensive chemotherapy until being declared in remission. Following her discharge, Ramirez immediately returned to work, this time as a college counselor, but she wanted to go deeper.
In fall 2012, she began the MSW program at Silver. Motivated by her experience of at-risk youth in the Dominican Republic and South Bronx, Ramirez initially intended to focus her studies on children and families. However, Silver’s first-year emphasis on introspection and self-discovery gave Ramirez new insight into her career path.
"I started exploring my own experience with cancer. I knew that I wanted to go into a field where I could help individuals and their families in the transition of what it means to be diagnosed with a chronic or terminal illness." What she experienced was not easy, but she was lucky to have had a very supportive family. That’s not the case for a lot of people who are diagnosed with a chronic or terminal illness. Ramirez refocused and decided on palliative care.
At the end of her first year at NYU, she applied for — and was accepted to — the Zelda Foster MSW Fellowship in Palliative and End-of-Life Care, a four-year program with specialized field placements, two years of post-graduate mentoring, and funding for professional development. Currently placed at Mt. Sinai Hospital, Ramirez works two days a week in an in-patient unit for adults with HIV and AIDS, and one day a week in a kidney transplant team, working alongside a medical team of doctors and surgeons to conduct assessments to determine which candidates would be the best recipients of new organs.
Ramirez’s personal experience with illness made her think about the large population of minority communities in the United States, who might not be receiving adequate services when encountering a difficult diagnosis because of language barriers, lack of education, or understanding of resources. "I fundamentally believe that all individuals, no matter their language, economic standing or ethnic and racial background, deserve to receive the appropriate support and services when facing a chronic or terminal illness," she says.
Ramirez’s eye for service gaps are valuable here at Silver, too. She helped found the first Latino Social Work Student Organization and sits on the School’s Diversity and Social Justice Committee.
Ramirez sums it up: "I came to social work school to work with vulnerable populations. To give them a voice. To educate them on their rights. That’s what I want to do. And it’s been really rewarding. I love it."
By Penelope Yates, ’15