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Fernando J. Martinez: Fostering Breakthroughs in Clinical Investigation

April 2015
Fernando J. Martinez, MD

Fernando J. Martinez,

In October 1968, Fernando Martinez, MD, along with his mother and three sisters, immigrated from Cuba to the U.S. None of the family members could speak English, and Dr. Martinez carried only one suitcase with him. They spent the next several years living in Georgia. His father, who was a physician, was not able to leave Cuba and join the family until 1972. Four years later, on America’s bicentennial, Dr. Martinez became a U.S. citizen.

Today, Dr. Martinez is executive vice chair of medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College and New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center. He also is a deputy editor of the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine and serves on the Program Committee for the ATS Assembly on Clinical Problems.

At Cornell, a significant portion of his role includes medical education. But for Dr. Martinez, it’s not just about training, it’s about getting the next generation excited about future possibilities. He encourages them to consider investigative and translational research—specifically linking biological processes to clinically relevant observations for diagnosing and managing patients—an area where he has found his own calling.

“Even though times are tight financially, there are still tremendous opportunities to do innovative and impactful research,” he says. “For instance, the [National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute] is our advocate, so I am trying to encourage young people. We need them.”

As a clinical investigator, Dr. Martinez collaborates with scientists on projects related to pulmonary fibrosis and COPD. As many in the field know, this work does not yield “quick wins,” but instead, progress happens over the course of decades.

Over the past 10 years, Dr. Martinez witnessed two of these studies come to fruition. Dr. Martinez and his team studied emphysema and lung volume reduction surgery, collaborating with investigators throughout the U.S. in the National Institutes of Health and Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services–supported National Emphysema Treatment Trial (NETT). When they first examined the data, the results were “just okay,” Dr. Martinez notes. However, while collaborating on the final paper, the team had a breakthrough.

“The lead NIH program officer noticed a difference in exercise capacity in some of the patients,” he explains. “Then we realized all the patients could be segregated into four categories. In three, there were dramatic results from surgery. In one, not so much. It was clear this was a rudimentary precision medicine approach, and we realized at that moment that these findings could alter care for patients worldwide.”

Medicare and other payers subsequently incorporated these results into therapeutic guidelines.

The second study was recently completed by the NIH-supported Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis Network. These investigators demonstrated that the previously utilized standard of care pharmacotherapy was associated with fatal outcomes. These results will also likely influence global therapeutic approaches. Furthermore, additional sub-studies from this work will likely prove equally influential.

Dr. Martinez counts Bartolome Celli, MD, among his mentors. Dr. Celli is a pulmonary and critical care physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School who mentored Dr. Martinez while he was a fellow in the pulmonary and critical care medicine division at Boston University.

“Fernando Martinez is one of the brightest and most competent physicians in the pulmonary field,” Dr. Celli says. “Not only well versed in clinical medicine, Fernando also excels in teaching, research, and advocacy. Rare in today’s medical world, Fernando is a thoughtful, energetic, and compassionate human being. As he helps write the future of pulmonary medicine, he has made a point to open roads for younger generations.”

Jonathan Orens, MD, a professor of medicine in the Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine at Johns Hopkins, mentored Dr. Martinez early in his career. “Dr. Martinez has a remarkable ability to see the ‘big picture’ and pull all the pieces together,” Dr. Orens says. “The work he does is motivated by an unwavering desire to see science directly affect the patient, which requires a rare dedication and patience, as that happens over the course of years and years.”

Dr. Martinez received his medical degree at the University of Florida and completed his internal medicine residency at Beth Israel Hospital/Harvard Medical School. He completed a pulmonary and critical care medicine fellowship at Boston University, then joined University of Michigan Medical Center as an assistant professor of medicine and eventually professor of medicine and associate chief of clinical research. He accepted his current role at Cornell in March 2014.

He is married to Collen Brennan, a nurse practitioner in cardiology. His daughter is pursuing a doctorate degree  in clinical psychology. His son works for a nonprofit organization in Boston, helping new immigrants in the U.S. learn how to speak English and maneuver society.

Life in ATS

  • ATS Member Since: 1987
  • Primary Assembly: Clinical Problems
  • 2009-Present CP Program Committee Member
  • 2009-11 CP Planning Committee Member
  • 2009-10 CP Executive Committee Immediate Past Chair
Last Reviewed: September 2017