Closing the Gap in the Nation’s Rheumatologist Shortage

Access to care for arthritis patients isn’t always a guarantee. All too often, seeing a rheumatologist includes traveling out of state because of the severe rheumatologist shortage. We are committed to closing this gap by offering fellowship grants to universities in underserved areas that offer innovative training programs.

We recently selected four schools to receive fellowship grants to help doctors advance in this specialty field. We are thrilled to offer these awards because of the impact the newly-funded positions will have on their communities and the partnership opportunities that will arise.

“According to the American College of Rheumatology’s most recent workforce study, the demand for adult rheumatology care exceeds supply by at least 36%, and the gap is expected to grow wider,” explains Karen Drzik, the Arthritis Foundation’s New Jersey executive director. “We are happy these newly-funded fellowship positions will attempt to reduce this burden and give people more access to care.”

“We know that early diagnosis and treatment is essential to prevent and minimize the joint damage and disability that can be caused by arthritis,” adds Deborah Hartman, the Foundation’s Western Pennsylvania and West Virginia executive director. “We also know that arthritis is reaching epidemic proportions. The need is compelling: Without immediate efforts, estimates show that we will have 43% fewer adult rheumatologists and 50% fewer pediatric rheumatologists than are necessary to care for patients in the near future.

“That’s why I am extraordinarily proud of the Arthritis Foundation’s efforts to address this critical gap through our fellowship program designed to cultivate a new generation of rheumatologists, especially in underserved areas of our country.”

Our support of fellowship programs has a significant impact, according to Dr. Deana Lazaro, director of the State University of New York (SUNY) Downstate Medical Center fellowship program. “SUNY Downstate Medical Center is the only academic medical center in Brooklyn, serving a large population of more than 2.3 million people,” she says. “Our patient population is also among the most diverse in the world.  We have trained nearly 100 rheumatologists since 1969, but the need is greater than ever.

“Our graduates serve Brooklyn, other parts of New York and the USA, as well as the West Indies, Singapore and Israel. Our community is very grateful to the Arthritis Foundation for providing the opportunity for our division to train rheumatologists to care for patients with arthritis in Brooklyn and beyond.”

Two adult and two pediatric rheumatology fellowships have been offered and accepted by the following programs:

Adult Fellowship Programs

SUNY Downstate Medical Center, Brooklyn, NY

Already serving a very diverse community, this program plans to develop a new element in their rheumatology training program, addressing the needs of young adults who are transitioning from pediatric to adult care. This innovative program will involve collaboration with rheumatologists, urban health planners, the city of Brooklyn and the Arthritis Foundation to understand the needs of young adult patients. SUNY Downstate Medical Center already uses an established telemedicine program to support care in rural New York.

University of Arizona (UA), Tucson, AZ

UA has a long history of interaction with the Arthritis Foundation. This training program is the only program in Arizona and serves part of New Mexico. The diverse population includes underserved communities of Hispanic and Native American patients. Several specialty clinics are a part of the UA community outreach program, providing fellowship students with additional training experience, including fragility clinics that are staffed by geriatric and orthopedic specialists, an Indian health services clinic and an interstitial lung disease clinic.

Pediatric Fellowship Programs

Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Nashville, TN

This young rheumatology training program serves a very diverse population in a large area that includes Appalachia, which is very underserved for health care in general. There is a strong interaction between the adult and pediatric rheumatology training programs. The institution plans to develop more use of innovative technology and telemedicine. The program provides cognitive behavioral therapy for patients with chronic pain related to arthritis. The rheumatology department at Vanderbilt is involved in local Arthritis Foundation activities.

University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, MN

With a strong need for training more pediatric rheumatologists, this program has a history of training high-quality rheumatologists who contribute to research. The institution maintains strong interactions with the Arthritis Foundation and our partners: the Childhood Arthritis and Rheumatology Research Alliance (CARRA) and the Pediatric Rheumatology Care and Outcomes Improvement Network (PR-COIN).

Learn more about our scientific initiatives, which are shaping the way new arthritis treatments are developed and strengthening relationships between patients and caregivers.


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