Jane F. Desforges, M.D., was widely recognized as a distinguished hematologist, physician, and outstanding teacher. During her sixty years in medicine, she worked in every aspect of the field, from scientific research to medical education, clinical practice, and medical publishing. From 1960-1993, she was associate editor of The New England Journal of Medicine, the world's pre-eminent medical journal.
At first, Jane Desforges wasn't inclined to become a doctor. Her father was a doctor, a general practitioner in Melrose, Massachusetts, and when she was young she decided against medicine. But she changed her mind in college, majoring in chemistry because she enjoyed the sciences. When a classmate decided on medical school, she decided she wanted to go, too.
She attended Tufts University School of Medicine, graduating in 1945. Alongside ninety-eight male students, she was one of five women in her class. She met her husband, Gerald Desforges, in medical school. They were often assigned to the same projects because students were grouped alphabetically (her maiden name began with "F" and his "D"). Her husband's first memory of her in medical school was when they were dissecting a canine cadaver in physiology lab during their first year. She was "pretty smart," he recalls, and competitive.
After medical school Dr. Desforges was a resident at Boston City Hospital for two years, then traveled to Salt Lake City to work with Dr. Max Wintrobe, a noted hematologist. She returned to Boston City Hospital the next year, and remained there for the next twenty-five years, serving as research fellow in hematology to director of laboratories, to physician in charge of the Tufts hematology laboratory.
In 1972 Dr. Desforges was appointed professor of medicine at Tufts, becoming a Distinguished Professor of Medicine in 1992 and professor emerita in 1995. Over the years, she developed a legendary style and reputation as a teacher. She received the Tufts University School of Medicine Outstanding Teacher Award for thirteen consecutive years, and has served as a role model for all her students. From the 1950s to the 1990s, she had a profound influence on generations of physicians.
Her teaching goal was to have her medical students and research fellows learn to appreciate problems in a logical way, to understand how they work and why. She encouraged them to work out answers to puzzles rather than simply memorize facts.
Dr. Desforges was an authority on anemias, particularly sickle-cell disease and Hodgkin's lymphoma, and published widely. Over the years, hematologists from around the world would refer their toughest cases to her.
During her career Dr. Desforges served as president of the American Society of Hematology, treasurer of the Board of Governors of the American Board of Internal Medicine, and was a member of the Institute of Medicine. She received a Distinguished Teacher Award from the American College of Physicians in 1988.