Unbeknownst to her, it was a patient who inspired David T. Felson, MD, MPH, to take up the challenge of rheumatology. In the late 1970s, Dr. Felson, then a resident at Case Western University Hospitals in Cleveland, was treating an older woman with arthritis who said to him, “I don’t know why you like helping me with my arthritis so much—you really can’t accomplish anything.”
“That statement was actually pretty insightful on her part,” he now reflects, because it pointed out one of the reasons why rheumatology was so challenging. Although rheumatologists did have some effective therapies for treating their patients, “that was before we had many of the newly available biologics,” he notes. His patient’s remark solidified his fascination for establishing relationships with patients and helping them work on their chronic illness problems.
The landscape of treatment armamentaria in rheumatic diseases has changed dramatically since that time, and Dr. Felson’s work over the past three decades has been critical to those advances. He has consistently collaborated with other disciplines—notably, epidemiologists in cardiology and oncology—to steer clinical measurement in rheumatology to new useful heights. Providing alignment of outcome measures, for example, has in turn allowed his bench research colleagues to measure the effectiveness of treatments.