David Hafler, MD, is a world-renowned expert on multiple sclerosis (MS) and chair of the Department of Neurology, where he has presided over a major expansion in the last several years. He tells the neurologists who work for him to put patients first. “If I sense that a doctor does not care deeply about patients, they don’t belong at Yale,” he says.
Dr. Hafler knew from a young age that he wanted to be a doctor and study the immune system. In elementary school, he made slides of his own blood and studied them under a microscope. “I took photographs. I still have them,” he says. Because most neurologic diseases are chronic, he has been treating many of his patients for more than 30 years. “Providing care for chronic disease is a very special part of being involved in someone’s life,” he says.
A professor of neurology and of immunobiology at Yale School of Medicine, Dr. Hafler is also a prolific researcher whose work has led to major advances in the understanding and treatment of MS, including identification of it as an autoimmune and genetic disease. He leads a lab at Yale that conducts cutting-edge research into MS and develops new treatments. Advances in treatment of MS have been remarkable, he says. “Back in the 1970s when I was in medical school, there were no treatments,” he says. “From where we were in 1975, say, we’ve come a long way.”