Q: What would you tell a rheumatologist who wants to be a mentor, but fears they don’t have the time to devote?
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Explore This IssueDecember 2010
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A: I’d tell them it’s the best thing they could do for themselves and other people. It’s all about people. Everything we do is about people and that’s the important issue. It’s not the grant, it’s not the contract, it’s not the position. It’s all about people and relationships … I’ve seen it from both ends, both in success and failure. I’ve learned it from failures in my life and as well as my successes.
Distinguished Clinician Scholar
Sterling G. West, MD
Professor of Medicine and Program Director, rheumatology fellowship, University of Colorado Denver School of Medicine.
Background: Working with others has been a fundamental tenet of Dr. West’s career since his undergraduate education at West Point in New York. After completing medical school, he began a two-year rheumatology fellowship at Walter Reed Army Medical Center Washington, D.C. about 30 years ago. He quickly rose to head of rheumatology at Fitzsimmons Army Medical Center in Aurora, Colo. While in the military and since joining the faculty at the University of Colorado in 1995 as the fellowship program head, he estimates he’s trained more than 50 fellows, a point he proudly points out because “they’re the future of rheumatology.”
Dr. West’s mindset works particularly well in the University of Colorado’s Division of Rheumatology, which has received four of the top nine annual awards from the ACR since 2008. (See p. 35 for the ACR Presidential Gold Medal winner Dr. Arend).
Q: Why is it important to balance your clinical, educational, and service roles?
A: In order to be an effective teacher of fellows and the like, you have to be involved with the rest of the discipline. Through those various activities, you have an appreciation for what’s going on, plus you’re up to date on the various problems and the current knowledge base.
Q: You spent almost 25 years of your career in military service. How did that experience shape your philosophy and your practice?
A: I’ve been very fortunate by having been able to both train in the military and practice a specialty in the military because the military has a great patient population with a lot of support, and so consequently you’re able to do things you might not be able to do as easily on the civilian side. Being able to start a fellowship and become the program director relatively early in my career was an opportunity I could not have had if I had not gone though the military.