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Chair’s Corner: Jose C. Florez, MD, PhD

Profile in Medicine

Chair’s Corner: Jose C. Florez, MD, PhD

The newly appointed Chair of the Department of Medicine, Jose C. Florez, MD, PhD, shares why he holds Mass General close at heart.

Paul Goldsmith
December 7, 2023

“This is where I learned how to be a real doctor and a real scientist,” says Jose C. Florez, MD, PhD, chair of the Department of Medicine. Dr. Florez started his career as a neurology intern at Massachusetts General Hospital in 1997, before switching to endocrinology. “I met my wife here. My four daughters were born at Mass General. My sister, who lived for 44 years with a rare genetic disorder, got her diagnosis here. I started the Down Syndrome Clinic here, which was inspired by my other sister who has Down syndrome.” To hear Dr. Florez, tell it: “There is no better place.” 

Over the last 26 years, Dr. Florez earned a reputation as a dedicated physician, a brilliant geneticist and a supportive and energetic leader, serving as chief of both the Mass General Endocrine Division and the Diabetes Unit. We asked Dr. Florez what excited him most about his new role and the challenges he was facing. 

What’s the most exciting aspect of your new role as Chair of the Department of Medicine?

I wake up each day, look at my very packed calendar, and I get excited — because I know that I’m going to interact with new people who are passionate, smart and committed and who share my ideals. I come away from each interaction so motivated — my first thought is always, ‘What can I do to help? What can I do to facilitate?’ And as Chair of the Department of Medicine, that’s my job — to harness all this amazing positive energy and channel it in a productive way.

You started your career in neurology but pivoted to focus on diabetes. What prompted the change?

I wanted to be a neurologist because of my interest in Down syndrome. I was fascinated by the idea that a change in the number of your chromosomes could lead to behavioral phenotypes and cognitive disability. My goal was to marry genetics and the neurology of the disease with patient care. But when I started training in neurology, I found that neurology in the hospital was more focused on diseases like stroke, neuroinflammation and brain tumors — conditions that, while serious, were less molecularly understood than Down syndrome. I missed that molecular piece, deciphering how things are connected. I also found that I missed taking care of the whole patient, as I had done during my medical internship. So, after one year I returned to the medicine residency and applied as a fellow in endocrinology.

In endocrinology, we know the molecules and hormones whose derangements result in diabetes and other disorders. The feedback loops are all very elegant. I also found that I really liked the longitudinal relationships that I formed with my patients. With diabetes, most people are treated over the course of their lives, and the idea of accompanying patients through their illness really resonated with me. I believe that to truly be the best physician-scientist, you need to equally engage your intellect and your heart, your mind and your passion. That’s what I found in diabetes care and research.

What’s been the hardest part of the transition to your new role as Chair of the Department of Medicine?

For me personally, stepping away from my diabetes practice has been difficult. It has been a great joy to accompany my patients through their lives, and saying goodbye to people I’ve known for 25 years in some cases hasn’t been easy. But these are turbulent times, and my role now is to ensure that Mass General remains a safe space — a welcoming, constructive, fruitful, enjoyable environment for everyone. A place that no matter where you come from, no matter what your identity is, you can feel at home and you can contribute. A place where people feel empowered to advance knowledge and deliver the best care for everyone who walks through the door.

To learn more and/or support Dr. Florez and the Department of Medicine, please contact us