Dr. Crow is All-In for What We’re Fighting For
Dr. Mary K. Crow is physician-in-chief and chair of the department of medicine at Hospital for Special Surgery in New York. She has devoted her entire career to unraveling the cellular and molecular mechanisms in autoimmune diseases.
Dr. Crow has served on the Arthritis Foundation’s New York City board of directors since 2010. Her longstanding commitment inspired HSS to sign on as the first-ever $100,000 sponsor of Walk to Cure Arthritis.
Honored by the Arthritis Foundation as an “Arthritis Hero” 2001 and receiving the Margaret D. Smith Lifetime Achievement Award in 2010, Dr. Crow is a true friend of the arthritis community.
“Dr. Crow is passionate about making arthritis a cause people need to pay attention to,” says Dr. Linda Russell, a fellow rheumatologist and Arthritis Foundation board member. “I was proud to see her receive the award of Medical Honoree of the 2019 Walk to Cure Arthritis. She has devoted her career to the advancement of research to help understand and treat patients with autoimmune diseases and arthritis.”
Following is a conversation we had recently with Dr. Crow, who was medical honoree of New York’s 2019 Walk to Cure Arthritis.
Q: What inspired you to enter the field of rheumatology?
As a third-year medical student, I was assigned to pediatrics. The very first patient I was responsible for was a 16-year-old African American girl who was terribly ill. She was barely conscious and had severe anemia, along with many other abnormalities in her laboratory data. After several days, I diagnosed her with systemic lupus erythematosus. I knew very little about the disease, but the significant impact lupus was having on her, with the immune system going so wrong and causing such damage, was compelling.
I chose rheumatology as a specialty because of the seriousness of many of these diseases, which often affect young women, and me wanting to understand the complexities of the immune system.
Q: What career milestone are you most proud of?
It was a tremendous honor to receive the Presidential Gold Medal from the American College of Rheumatology in 2018. That award recognizes contributions to rheumatology. I’ve been fortunate to participate in advancing the field, not only through my own research, but also through active participation in organizations like the Arthritis Foundation.
However, if the question were asked a little differently — what do I view as the most impactful career achievement? – I would point to an evening many years ago, when I was working in an immunology lab, waiting for data from an experiment I had designed and performed. As a series of numbers emerged from the machine, I realized their significance: that our immune systems recognize who we are — an observation that has important implications for how autoimmunity can develop. I felt a tremendous sense of optimism, knowing we are all capable of gaining new knowledge and collectively contributing to our understanding of how things work.
Q: What do you consider the biggest advancement in rheumatology over the course of your career?
It would have to be the development of biologic therapies for patients with a growing number of immune-related diseases. As a rheumatology fellow in training, I experienced patients with lupus or rheumatoid arthritis dying of their disease. For others, the disease was tremendously debilitating, greatly impacting their lives and causing significant pain.
Through research, particularly studies of patients, our understanding of the biologic mechanisms that lead to rheumatic diseases has advanced considerably. We now have biologic therapies that do a good job of treating most patients, targeting relevant biologic mechanisms. We have more work to do before these diseases can be cured or even prevented, but we have come a long way.
Q: With your leadership role at a leading hospital, what insight would you offer to others in being a Champion of Yes!
It is very gratifying to always be learning new things and acquiring new skills. I have a habit — for better or worse — of usually saying “yes” when asked to take on a task. I work hard and often have too much on my plate, but my philosophy is that every task is an opportunity to move toward something better, whether it is better treatments for patients, more gratifying careers for colleagues and staff, or a better understanding of the diseases we diagnose and treat.