Dr. Carol Horowitz’s office on the second floor of Mount Sinai’s Icahn Medical Institute overlooks NYCHA’s Carver Houses. The contrast between her office’s bright interior and the worn stone face of the public housing development is stark, but the view anchors a central aim of Horowitz’s medical career: making medicine more equitable, both within the profession and for the patients it serves.
As a physician, researcher and advocate, Horowitz has received awards from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Lighthouse International, Academy for the Public’s Health and many more. Today, she divides her work life into three buckets. She is, fundamentally, a primary care doctor, and despite her growing list of titles and responsibilities, she still carves out time to see patients at Mount Sinai’s clinic on East 101st Street, as well as a researcher and advocate for culture change within the medical profession.
Much of Horowitz’s time is devoted to research geared toward improving health outcomes within underserved populations. But as a professor of population health science and policy at the Icahn School of Medicine, she isn’t looking for answers via microscopes or biopsies. Instead, she’s starting conversations.
“The approach is called community-based participatory research,” she explains. “Who am I to figure out what's going on in Harlem and take care of it by myself? The idea of community-based participatory research is that at the table with me as real partners are people from the communities, are the priority populations I'm working with.”
Depending on the project, her partners can include stakeholders ranging from pastors and community group leaders to app developers and insurance representatives.
“Think about any problem and say, ‘Who should be around the table so we can figure out what's broken?’ We can do something about it, and if we find something that works, we can sustain it. We can find roots in the community to let it continue.”
In January, Horowitz got to witness one of her community-based initiatives materialize with the opening of an “Adult Fitness Zone” at the Carver Houses. The project brought together residents, NYCHA officials, Mount Sinai, and The Trust for Public Land to plan and construct an outdoor gym, with plans for additional programming to be provided later in the year.
For Horowitz, the reward was in making one group feel seen. “When we had our opening, even though it was a little cold out, it was a bunch of young guys,” she recalls. “Young black men and young Latino men are not who we usually target health stuff on, and this is what I'm saying: ‘This is for you. You want this, you have this.’ So that's what's really nice.”
Horowitz’s advocacy isn’t reserved for the world outside of Mount Sinai, however. In 2019 she was appointed Dean for Gender Equity in Science and Medicine, a role she is the first to hold. As dean, her primary focuses are identifying the barriers to entry that keep minorities out of medical professions and stemming the tide of women who enter but then leave the field prematurely. It’s an administrative leadership role that has her examining pay and promotions for equity, as well as studying social forces, such as unpaid caretaking that often falls on women.
In her first year, Icahn has already moved to install lactation pods and created grants to help offset costs for early-career researchers with overwhelming home demands.
For all her responsibilities, Horowitz remains grounded, as much for the “wonderful people” she collaborates with in the field as for the “unbelievable opportunity” to spearhead equity initiatives within Mount Sinai. But neither overshadow her wonder at the simple miracle of the doctor-patient relationship.
“How lucky are you that people trust you with their lives?” she asks rhetorically. “Think about it. What an honor and a privilege that is. You know, I never quite get over it.”
“How lucky are you that people trust you with their lives? What an honor and a privilege that is."