New chair of public health sciences makes national list of inspiring Hispanic/Latinx scientists

September 23, 2020
Dr. Hermes Florez
Dr. Hermes Florez joined MUSC this summer. Photos by Sarah Pack

The new chair of the Department of Public Health Sciences in the College of Medicine at the Medical University of South Carolina was surprised to learn he’s been named one of “100 inspiring Hispanic/Latinx scientists in America” by a national publication.

“I’m humbled to be part of that group. Obviously, there are so many other colleagues – Hispanics, Latinos - who deserve to be on that list, but I’m honored to be one of them,” said Hermes Florez, M.D., Ph.D. 

Cell Mentor, an online site for researchers, posted the list during National Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15. It includes scientists from Georgetown University, the Yale School of Medicine, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Columbia University, the National Institutes of Health and Harvard University. 

Criteria included “scholarly achievements, mentoring excellence and a commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion,” according to the website. The goal: “to put an end to the harmful myth that there are not enough diverse scientists to give seminars, serve as panelists, or fill scientific positions.”

Florez, who was born in Venezuela, has multiple leadership roles at MUSC. In addition to leading the public health sciences program, he directs the new Institute for Healthy Aging and serves as associate dean for population health in the College of Medicine. Florez joined MUSC over the summer after almost three decades at the University of Miami School of Medicine.

Dr. Hermes Florez working on computer 
Dr. Hermes Florez says it's important for young people to see that scientists come from a variety of backgrounds.

MUSC College of Medicine Dean Raymond DuBois, M.D., Ph.D., said Florez is an excellent fit for the list of inspirational scientists – and MUSC. “We are very excited to have recruited a leader of Dr. Florez’s caliber to MUSC. He is widely respected as a public health leader, and his expertise as an M.D. and researcher makes him uniquely qualified to lead our Department of Public Health Sciences in this critical time.”

Leading the program during the coronavirus pandemic is a challenge Florez is well prepared for. He’s trained in internal medicine, endocrinology, geriatrics and epidemiology as well as public health. He specializes in treating older people with diabetes, a group at higher risk than the general public of suffering from serious complications of COVID-19.

Florez has also seen first-hand the value of having people of different backgrounds play a role in making health care assessments and decisions. “When I’ve served in the American Diabetes Association’s professional practice panel to develop guidance for diabetes care, I was pleased to see representation. There were African Americans, there were Latinos, there were Asian Americans. This is the population most affected by diabetes type 2,” Florez said.

“It’s important to have broad representation. I mean, take the example of COVID-19. We know minority populations are primarily affected, along with older adults. They’re very vulnerable. So are those who have diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Among them, African Americans and Latinos are higher risk because of comorbid conditions,” Florez said.

“You need to have people who understand how to tackle the different challenges. This goes beyond any genetic difference or predisposition for these diseases. There are so many environmental factors that play a role and there are so-called social determinants of health. That may play a role such as access to care, education, socioeconomic status, how safe are our environments.”

Lists such as the “100 inspiring Hispanic/Latinx scientists in America” not only make the public aware of experts from diverse backgrounds – they may do a lot more than that. “I believe that having role models can motivate younger Latinos and Latinas to move forward in their academic and professional life and have aspirations to serve the community to the best of their abilities,” Florez said.

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