Inside NYP: Elvira Acosta

Having spent over half of her life in different roles at the hospital, a NewYork-Presbyterian social worker reflects on the impact it has had on her professionally and personally.

I showed up to my first interview at NewYork-Presbyterian in a knee-length cocktail dress and a cardigan. Looking back now, I would never have worn that, but I was only 15 and still had a lot to learn.

I was so nervous during that interview that I’m surprised my voice wasn’t shaking. But I did well and was offered the job that same afternoon. It was one of the best days of my life! That was 17 years ago, and I’ve had seven jobs at NewYork-Presbyterian over the years. I feel like I’ve grown up here.

My first position was with the psychiatry team at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center, assisting with office work. That job exposed me to so much and to an array of people I hadn’t been familiar with — doctors, social workers, medical students, Ph.D. students.

Working at NewYork-Presbyterian, my eyes were opened to a lot of things that were out there, things I could potentially become. I wanted to learn more.

I was born the middle child of a modest but incredibly hardworking family from the Bronx. When I was 14, my older brother was murdered in our neighborhood. Experiencing that at such a young age made me grow up a lot quicker than I should have. But it also put life into perspective, and it lit a fire in me to want to make a difference for the people in my community where crime is so high.

My family relocated to Washington Heights shortly after my brother’s death, and that’s where I really found a community in need. I decided at that point that this was where I wanted to give back. I knew the issues this neighborhood faced. I knew what was important to residents. I think that for my family, we all sort of fell into wanting to help and being very sympathetic and empathetic toward people who have had similar issues or life situations as we did.

From that first job, I developed a strong interest in psychology, and majored in it at New York University. I kept my job at the hospital while in school, and I was given an opportunity as a research assistant with the same team.

After graduation, I spent a short time as a patient financial adviser, then returned to school for my master’s degree in social work. I was lucky enough to begin my career in social work at NewYork-Presbyterian as well.

Part of my current role as a social worker with the Consultation-Liaison Psychiatry Service is to discuss patients’ symptoms and potential diagnoses, and determine the best discharge plan after their hospital stay — whether it be inpatient, outpatient, or rehabilitation. It’s a little surreal to be working in this capacity in the very department that gave me my start so many years ago.

Becoming a social worker taught me to put my natural sensitivity aside and has given me the tools to be neutral and open and provide a safe environment for our patients even during the toughest situations. Now more than ever, I notice the need for mental health services, for advocates.

Carlos and Elvira Acosta

After 17 years, my co-workers have turned into a family. When I went to college, they came together and bought me my very first laptop. When my son was born last year, my work family was there to visit me almost immediately.

My younger brother, Carlos, took my former administrative role when I left, and it influenced him to study psychology as well. He still works here, doing research in behavioral medicine. Between the two of us working here and my parents living nearby, NewYork-Presbyterian has become integrated in all aspects of our lives.

After so many years of working in different roles throughout the hospital, the communities I became a part of, and the mentors I met along the way, I feel like my dreams of helping the community have been realized.

Elvira Acosta, LCSW, is a social worker with the Consultation-Liaison Psychiatry Service at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center. She is working on her Ph.D. in clinical psychology, with the goal of continuing to work within the Washington Heights community at NewYork-Presbyterian.