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Care Team Spotlight: Mark O’Connor, MD – Endocrinologist

Date Posted: Friday, August 20, 2021

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Dr. O’Connor joined the UMass Diabetes Center of Excellence (DCOE) after completing his endocrinology fellowship at Massachusetts General Hospital, but he is no stranger to Worcester. He graduated from UMass Medical School and after completing internship and residency at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, he returned to Worcester to work as a hospitalist at Memorial Hospital before pursuing fellowship training in Boston. During his fellowship, in addition to treating patients with a wide range of endocrine disorders, he studied the genetics of type 2 diabetes at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. A Massachusetts native, Dr. O’Connor currently lives in central Mass with his wife and toddler.

"In a sense, he returned home," said Dr. Samir Malkani, Interim Chief of Diabetes at UMass Memorial Health. When Dr. O’Connor was a medical student, Dr. Malkani was his first endocrinology supervisor. "I feel very fortunate that he chose the UMass Diabetes Center of Excellence to begin his career in Diabetes and Endocrinology."

Why Diabetes Care

Dr. O’Connor chose to focus on diabetes care because of the high prevalence of type 2 diabetes (T2D). “I felt like studying diabetes was a way to help a large number of people.” He’s excited to assist people developing individualized care plans incorporating the latest treatment options. He believes in the DCOE's care team approach in which an endocrinologist, nurse practitioner, and diabetes educator work as a team with each patient, utilizing the latest technology and medications to treat type 1 or type 2 diabetes.    

Diabetes Research

Research is a passion of Dr. O’Connor because diabetes is a disease that affects so many people yet still involves so many unanswered questions. In large biobank datasets with hundreds of thousands of participants, he’s investigating genes linked to a person’s T2D risk and is also studying new mechanisms by which people develop the disease. He also plans to do more clinical research, including clinical trials.

"Dr. O’Connor will find plenty of opportunities to forge collaborations with the talented faculty at UMass Medical School to pursue a rewarding career combining diabetes care with his research interests," said Dr. Malkani.

He’s currently collaborating with colleagues in the Emergency Department (ED) at UMass Memorial to launch a randomized controlled trial to determine if continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) can improve quality of life and A1c levels for patients treated in the ED. Participants will include people with pre-existing diabetes as well as those who arrived to the ED undiagnosed. The study will analyze whether CGM successfully keeps people from returning to the hospital with diabetes-related issues once they’ve been discharged from the ED, and it will be the first study of its kind to evaluate the benefits of CGM for ED patients.  

Challenges of Treating Diabetes

Dr. O’Connor understands that healthcare costs such as medication prices as well as insurance co-pays and deductibles make it difficult for people with type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Similarly, the costs of obtaining and preparing healthy foods and getting regular exercise can be significant, especially for people working and raising families.  And for type 1 diabetes, especially, he recognizes the psychological toll it takes to manage a disease that requires such constant attention. “Our ability to pay attention to multiple things at the same time is limited,” said Dr. O’Connor.  “When diabetes is a constant focus it can affect your mental well-being.”

What Attracted Dr. O’Connor to the UMass Diabetes Center of Excellence       

“I like the multidisciplinary approach of the UMass DCOE,” he said.  He appreciates having health psychologists on the care team who specialize in diabetes management as well as a dedicated kidney specialist, since diabetes is the most common cause of kidney disease. “I really value the diabetes educators who help with everything from insulin pumps to nutrition and so many other topics affecting people with both type 1 and type 2.” 

He highlighted the clinic workflow and spoke specifically about the value of point-of-care A1c testing. “It optimizes patient care. Our patient care assistants administer the test, and the results are ready when the doctor enters the exam room,” he said.  “If people use CGM or an insulin pump, that data is downloaded for us ahead of time so that we can maximize our time formulating a plan with the patient.”  

“The Specialty Pharmacy is also a great resource,” added Dr. O’Connor. “Our team works hard to find the most cost-effective medication for each patient and helps people navigate the challenges of the health insurance system.”

Dr. O’Connor’s Favorites

Hobbies/Activities: Hiking, running, and playing the piano.

Massachusetts Locations: Lake Park, Purgatory Chasm, Moore State Park

TV Shows: Scrubs

Music: Traditional, Classical, Jazz, “Almost anything basically.”