John Cluley’s first exposure to rheumatology came long before medical school. At 16, Cluley—who had always been a very healthy and active young man—had a sudden rheumatologic flare. Doctors were able to make a quick diagnosis and Cluley was referred to well-known pediatric rheumatologist, Marilyn Punaro, MD, at Texas Scottish Rite Hospital.
“Before my flare at sixteen I had never really been sick,” says Cluley. “I consider myself very fortunate that doctors were able to make a quick diagnosis and refer me to Dr. Punaro immediately. Under her care and treatment, I never had to stop being an active kid.”
Cluley continued under Dr. Punaro’s care until he transitioned to an adult rheumatologist at age 18. After graduating from high school, he headed off to college at the University of Texas at Austin, where he had already decided to complete a pre-med major.
Before applying to medical school, Cluley decided to take some time after college and get more hands-on clinical experience. “I had a strong interest and a strong skill set pushing me towards medicine, but before committing my future to the profession, I wanted to be certain about my career choice,” he says. Cluley worked for a year as a medical assistant in an Austin pediatric clinic. At the clinic, he saw some of Dr. Punaro’s pediatric patients, leading him to reconnect with his former physician and mentor.
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After his year in the pediatric clinic, Cluley began medical school at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. During that first year of medical school, he regularly kept in touch with Dr. Punaro, and as summer approached, Dr. Punaro told Cluley about the ACR Research and Education Foundation and their preceptorship program. “I was looking for a clinical opportunity for that summer,” recalls Cluley. “When Dr. Punaro told me about the preceptorship program, I knew I wanted to participate. Not only would I get to have Dr. Punaro as my preceptor, but I would also have the opportunity to return to Texas Scottish Rite. I first visited there as a patient, now I’d be returning as a medical professional. It felt right-like my journey had come full circle.”
Cluley and Dr. Punaro applied for and were selected to participate in the ACR REF/ Abbott Medical Student Clinical Preceptorship program. During this past summer of 2006, Cluley completed his four-week program. Shadowing Dr. Punaro, he interfaced directly with pediatric rheumatology patients and their families in Dr. Punaro’s clinic. He also accompanied her on rounds at the hospital a couple of times a week. A fitting finale to his summer experience came in November 2006 when he attended the ACR/ARHP Annual Scientific Meeting.