Anna Podolanczuk grew up in Kolonowskie, a small town in southwestern Poland. She came to the United States with her parents and younger brother at age 12 through the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program because of what she calls a “lucky chance.” Using a lottery system, the program selects applicants from countries with historically low rates of immigration to the United States. The family settled in Wall Township, New Jersey. In part because she did not know any English, Podolanczuk gravitated toward math and science in school. She went on to earn a BS in neuroscience from Brown University. After finishing her studies at New York University School of Medicine, she completed her residency at Columbia University Irving Medical Center — and stayed on.
As an attending physician at NewYork-Presbyterian, Podolanczuk specializes in advancing the care of patients with interstitial lung disease and pulmonary fibrosis, a lung disease resulting from lung tissue damage and scarring. She is also the assistant professor of medicine at Columbia University, dedicating the majority of her time to research related to her clinical work, which focuses on identifying and characterizing novel risk factors for interstitial lung disease in humans. Her research on the role of high-density lipoproteins in interstitial lung disease is funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and she is also a site investigator for clinical trials of novel therapies for pulmonary fibrosis.
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Podolanczuk put her research aside and volunteered for extra hospital shifts caring for COVID-19 patients. “I felt that it was my purpose, my role,” she said. She also kept the public informed using Twitter. Although Podolanczuk feels fortunate that she always had sufficient personal protective equipment, right after her first week in the COVID-19 ICU, she got sick. Her husband, her four-year-old daughter, and her seven-month-old daughter all fell sick as well. Thankfully, their COVID-19 symptoms were mild. The family recovered in less than two weeks, and Podolanczuk was able to return to work.
In July, Podolanczuk will become an attending physician at NewYork-Presbyterian, this time with Weill Cornell Medicine, where she is also an assistant professor of medicine.
Reflecting on the contributions of immigrants as first responders during the COVID-19 pandemic, she said, “A lot of my colleagues are immigrants — it’s the doctors, it’s the nurses. They have been so critical and saved so many lives.” Serving others is central to Podolanczuk’s identity as an American. “To me, America is essentially about the opportunity to create a better world and a better country for everyone around me and to help people.”