When Abby Abelson, MD, FACR, chair of the Department of Rheumatology and Immunologic Disease at Cleveland Clinic, was in medical school, she enjoyed nearly every one of her rotations. But it was the rheumatology patients who inspired her the most.
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“I saw they had challenges in their lives that they were able to triumph over,” says Dr. Abelson, the new president of the Rheumatology Research Foundation.
She was also attracted to the specialty because she saw the way the rapidly expanding field of immunology was transforming therapies for rheumatology patients, improving their quality of life. And she saw immense reward in the lifelong patient relationships offered by a career as a rheumatologist.
“You open a door to a new patient, and you can basically be together forever,” Dr. Abelson says. “I have [been caring for some] patients for 30 years. I have multiple generations of families. I love partnering with patients to manage their chronic conditions.”
On top of all that, Dr. Abelson loves that rheumatology allows her to be something of a detective. “You’re the specialty other physicians call when a patient has a condition involving multiple organ systems and they’re scratching their heads,” she says. “You end up seeing the most fascinating and interesting patients in the hospital and unraveling these mysteries.”
On a Mission
Dr. Abelson will spend the next two years helping steer the Foundation, which provides a critical role in the support of rheumatology. It’s a mission she intends to maintain.
“The Rheumatology Research Foundation is the largest private source for rheumatology research funding and training in this country, focused on improving the health of patients, funding research to advance treatment, and training students, residents and all rheumatology professionals to treat the number of patients who need rheumatology care,” Dr. Abelson says.
She is grateful to the ACR for the “tremendous support” it provides the Foundation.
During an awards luncheon at the ACR/ARHP Annual Meeting in November, Dr. Abelson was inspired to learn about award recipients from across the country. “One of the really spectacular things about the Foundation is the tremendous variety of grants it awards to students, residents and fellows, through career development and innovative research awards. We’re supporting breakthroughs that are going to discover new treatments and cures and hopefully prevent disease.”
She can’t help but think about patients she cared for early in her training, like a 2-year-old child with severe lupus and a young mother with vasculitis. “We didn’t have a lot of the newer, innovative therapies, and a lot of our patients went on to tremendous morbidity. Some were also dying.”