Fixel Institute Leader Named UF Distinguished Professor

Michael S. Okun, M.D., receives honor for leadership and lasting impact in neurology.

Dr. Michael Okun

Feb. 16, 2024 — In recognition of his outstanding contributions to education, research and patient care, Michael S. Okun, M.D., has been named a University of Florida Distinguished Professor. The highest faculty honor awarded at UF, the title underscores Okun’s leadership and lasting impact in neurology.

Okun, the Adelaide Lackner Distinguished Professor of Neurology at the UF College of Medicine and the director of the Norman Fixel Institute for Neurological Diseases at UF Health, joins seven other faculty members across UF’s campus selected for the designation this year. He is one of only five faculty members in the College of Medicine’s history to be honored with this distinction.

Distinguished Professors at UF are named based on an exceptional record of achievement in teaching, research, publication, as well as for professional and public service, both nationally and internationally. The title signifies a rare and special accomplishment, acknowledging a candidate’s preeminent standing in their discipline.

Honorees are invited to present a lecture to the UF Faculty Senate. Okun’s lecture, “Journey to the Center of the Brain and Back,” in January provided a platform for him to share insights into his pioneering work in neurology.

“I love this university, I love the people here and I love what I do,” Okun said during his presentation. “I feel gratitude every day, but especially today, for the opportunity to occupy a position as a Distinguished Professor here at the University of Florida.”

A board-certified neurologist, movement disorders specialist, researcher and author, Okun is a world-renowned expert in Parkinson’s disease, tremor, Tourette syndrome, dystonia and more. His research projects have included pioneering applications of deep brain stimulation, or DBS, and neuromodulation therapies for the treatment of Parkinson’s disease, Tourette syndrome and tic disorders, dystonia, essential tremor and obsessive-compulsive disorder. He has penned 14 books and published more than 600 papers and review articles on Parkinson’s and other movement disorders.

He has served as the national medical director and adviser for the Parkinson’s Foundation since 2006 and was honored in 2015 as part of the White House Champions of Change program.

“Dr. Okun and his teams have transformed UF into a national and international leader in DBS,” said Michael S. Jaffee, M.D., chair of the department of neurology. “He developed a multidisciplinary model for clinical care, which has become the national standard. As a department leader, Dr. Okun helped open up meaningful research in a variety of neurological diseases through recruiting and program development and facilitated the launch of a new UF institute focused on neurodegenerative diseases. The impact of Okun’s corpus of work on real people with these diseases cannot be overstated.”

Okun received his medical degree from UF in 1996 before completing an internship and residency training in neurology. He further honed his expertise through a movement disorders neurology and then neurosurgery fellowship at Emory University in Atlanta.

Upon returning to UF to join the faculty, Okun co-founded and co-directed the UF Center for Movement Disorders and Neurorestoration. Guided by the principle that “the patient is the sun, and all care should orbit around them,” that center served as the foundation for what is now the Norman Fixel Institute. Okun served as chair of the department of neurology from 2015 to 2023, during which time the department more than doubled its research funding, doubled its faculty, expanded its residency and fellowship training opportunities and created new programs focused on neurocritical care, traumatic brain injury, multiple sclerosis, headache and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

“The department of neurology is now the only department in the College of Medicine to have had two Distinguished Professors,” Jaffee said. “This is a special honor for the department and a testament to our devotion to the University of Florida.”

By: Styliana Resvanis