As we are all aware, there is a significant workforce shortage looming over our specialty due to the projected increase of demand for rheumatologic care—an estimated 67 million U.S. adults will have some form of arthritis by 2030. The supply of adult rheumatologists coming into the field will not keep pace. What additional impact healthcare reform and changes in healthcare delivery will have on these projections is not yet clear. It is, in fact, the vision of the ACR to “enhance the value and impact of rheumatology in a changing healthcare environment.” To fulfill its mission, the ACR must remain nimble in this dynamic and complex medical ecosystem, proactively addressing issues relevant to practice, advocacy, education, workforce, quality of care, and research.
Standing with the ACR, our Research and Education Foundation (REF) supports the overall goals of the ACR, but has a narrower focus: to ensure the future of rheumatology through advancing research and training. Bright spots in this effort have been the REF’s successful Within Our Reach: Finding a Cure for Rheumatoid Arthritis campaign, which has raised nearly $28 million towards the support of RA research, and the ongoing support of the core programs devoted to early career development. However, research funding from other sources has steadily declined over the past few years, and this reduction in funding could threaten our subspecialty in the years to come by shrinking our clinical and academic workforce. We can act as a community to combat these threats by making a philanthropic investment in the ACR REF.
Career Support at All Stages
Attracting more professionals to the rheumatology field—and keeping them—is significantly influenced by the availability of rheumatology training and research funding. Historically, the ACR has focused on expanding rheumatologic research, and 25 years ago it established the REF as a separate charitable organization exclusively to promote and expand the field of rheumatology by funding fellowship training and a peer-reviewed research grants program. Today, this portfolio of funding opportunities spans the full spectrum of a rheumatology career, with a particular focus on advancing the careers of young rheumatologists.
Over the last decade, the REF has taken a leadership role in ensuring the future of rheumatology. It has grown to become the second-largest funding source of rheumatology training and research programs in the U.S., behind only the National Institutes of Health. Through its core programs, the REF awards funds to medical students and residents with a clinical or research interest in rheumatology, fellows-in-training, and junior faculty aiming for a career in academics. Presently, the other large portion of funds goes to support the best and the brightest scientists from our disease-targeted research program. Over the next two years, the REF will invest $22 million in rheumatology training and research. This substantial outlay of funds will hopefully entice quality trainees into our specialty, while at the same time advancing the science of rheumatology and improving the care of patients with rheumatic disease.
Attracting more professionals to the rheumatology field—and keeping them—is significantly influenced by the availability of rheumatology training and research funding.
Support for RA Research
The disease-targeted research initiative, Within Our Reach, has been a major step forward in addressing the shortage of research funding in our field. In its first phase, this unprecedented campaign aimed to raise a minimum of $30 million to invest in accelerating RA research by creating a new, rigorous peer-review research-grant program. The idea came from the realization that little NIH funding was being directed to basic and clinical research in RA, compared with less prevalent disease such as lupus and multiple sclerosis. At a REF-organized session of leading RA investigators in 2005, it became clear that additional funding was necessary to reinvigorate RA research in the U.S.