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From: The Rheumatologist, November 2011

Dispelling the Mystery, Ensuring the Future

Bringing calm and organization to chaos: This is what led Greg Dennis, MD, to pursue a career in rheumatology. Dr. Dennis who, at the time, was an internal medicine resident at Fitzsimons Army Medical Center in Aurora, Colo., was seeking a subspecialty that would allow him to pursue immunology in a clinical or laboratory setting. What he realized during his residency was that rheumatology was a mystery to many physicians.

“The research in rheumatology and the medicines available to treat the diseases were really lacking in those days,” says Dr. Dennis, who is now senior director, medical affairs at Human Genome Sciences in Rockville, Md. “Patients would come in with a chronic condition and the internal medicine physician wouldn’t know how to treat them. A rheumatologist would be called for a consultation on a patient with an unknown diagnosis and would often be able to diagnose the patient. I saw rheumatologists really making a difference in the lives of many patients, and knew that’s what I wanted to do.”

Dr. Dennis earned his medical degree at St. Louis University School of Medicine, conducted his residency at Fitzsimons Army Medical Center, and received fellowship training at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C. Prior to his current role, he was a medical director in clinical development, inflammatory diseases at MedImmune, director of clinical care and training at the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases of the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md., and chief of rheumatology and clinical immunology at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

“That lack of awareness about rheumatology that I experienced at the beginning of my career really influenced the direction my career has taken,” continues Dr. Dennis. “My passions are research and the education of physicians. I was lucky to have several mentors who took time with me to help me become a better rheumatologist and teacher. Now, I want to teach others how to be their best. With each career move, my hope is to impact a greater number of individuals with rheumatic diseases.”

With his position at Walter Reed, Dr. Dennis was able to help the military men and women and their families affected by rheumatic diseases. After 21 years of service in the military, he retired to accept a position with the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases that would allow him to play a greater role in educating individuals. After seven years with NIH, he opted to join the pharmaceutical industry. “I really wanted to have a greater influence and be able to impact patients’ day-to-day lives,” says Dr. Dennis.

In March 2011, he accomplished that goal. He was fortunate to be part of a team that developed the first drug approved for lupus patients in more than 50 years. “Now that we have the drug accepted by the Food and Drug Administration, I’m focused on research to further inform how to best utilize the drug in clinical practice, and educate physicians on the data received in clinical trials and what that means in the context of clinical care.”

The Future

“Although we’ve come a long way since those days when awareness about rheumatology was low, we still have a ways to go,” says Dr. Dennis. “We could increase awareness more with education and early curriculum that includes in-depth discussions about rheumatic diseases.”

“Before, there weren’t many med­icines available for common rheumatic conditions,” he says. “I really think that with the advent of new treatments and drugs, and because of our dedication to mentoring and teaching, we’ll see more residents pursuing rheumatology as their subspecialty.”

In addition to his professional work, Dr. Dennis is a long-time supporter of the ACR Research and Education Foundation. He served on the advisory group that helped guide the ACR’s 2005–2006 Rheumatology Workforce Study Report. “The goals and objectives of the ACR Research and Education Foundation [REF] align perfectly with my passion for research and education,” says Dr. Dennis. “In my opinion, supporting the REF is about a desire to contribute to the dialogue about the future of rheumatology. I entered rheumatology as a lifelong endeavor and, by supporting the REF, I’ll be able to continue my passion around research and education well after I’m retired … which isn’t anytime soon!”

The REF funds groundbreaking research that advances patient care and accelerates discoveries, providing hope to more than 50 million Americans affected by rheumatic diseases. As the largest private funding source of rheumatology research and training in the U.S., the REF has awarded over $50 million to more than 1,000 recipients in the past five years. For more information, visit www.rheumatology.org/REF.

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