The American College of Rheumatology (ACR) has selected James Witter, MD, PhD, who serves on the Arthritis Foundation’s Medical and Scientific Advisory Committee, to be designated as an ACR Master, one of ACR’s highest honors. He will receive this recognition along with 17 others during the ACR’s annual meeting in November.
Dr. Witter has brought not only his extensive professional experience to bear throughout his medical career, but also a patient’s perspective from living for years with ankylosing spondylitis.
He received his PhD in medical microbiology and immunology in 1981 from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His postdoc research, at Crocker Nuclear Lab in California focused on the role of gastrointestinal microflora in colon carcinogenesis. “It involved the use of a unique isotope to address the key fundamental biologic issue of whether nitrogen was oxidized in the human body,” explains Dr. Witter, whose research resulted in the publication of key papers in Science magazine. He then did a second postdoc at the Shriners Hospital for Crippled Children in Montreal before entering medical school.
After earning his medical degree from the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee in 1987, he served his internship and residency at the Boston VA Medical Center, which encompassed a combined program with Boston University and Tuft’s Medical Center. A clinical and research fellowship in the arthritis unit of Massachusetts General Hospital at Harvard Medical School led to his appointment as associate director of rheumatology at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital.
“Since becoming a rheumatologist, my research interests have been at the national, regulatory and international level to improve understanding and treatment for rheumatic diseases,” Dr. Witter explains.
In 1995 he became medical officer and team leader at the Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, where he was involved in all aspects of the review and approval of therapies to treat rheumatic diseases. From 1999 to 2009, he served as a staff rheumatologist at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, and in recognition of his teaching he was appointed assistant professor of medicine at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in 2004.
Dr. Witter most recently served with the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS), one of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). He began there in 2007 as medical officer directing the Rheumatic Diseases Clinical Program, and he saw patients at the NIAMS Community Health Clinic. While there, he was active in managing and curating the NIH PROMIS (Patient Reported Outcomes Information System) initiative, and he served as chief science officer of both the PROMIS and PEPR (Pediatric Patient Reported Outcomes in Chronic Diseases) until his retirement in January.
Dr. Witter has received numerous awards and recognitions, including the NIH Director’s Award for outstanding leadership and collaborative work and merit awards for advancing long-range plans in rheumatology.
His involvement in PROMIS and PEPR — both important systems that measure patients’ health and wellness — are reflective of his commitment to ensuring the patient’s perspective is considered in treatment decisions as well as policy decisions.
“Having been a patient with ankylosing spondylitis for years, I have championed the key role of the patient perspective in understanding disease onset and treatment,” he explains. “I have advanced the idea that patient-reported outcomes (PROs) are key to understanding how patients feel, function and survive. I have always sought opportunities to better understand the patient perspective in rheumatologic disease onset and response to therapy. [And] I have pursued these interests over the years in both national and international formats.”
The Arthritis Foundation congratulates Dr. Witter on becoming an ACR Master, and we are honored to have his participation on our Medical and Scientific Advisory Committee.