“It’s not like she easily accepts what I say,” Dr. Sterba says, proudly adding he respects her confidence and independence. “I say, ‘Why don’t you give [the patient] prednisone?’ and she’ll question it. It’s a challenge.”
Rheumatology and fatherhood can be that way, sometimes.
Like Father, Like Son
“My dad, Harry Spiera, MD, was the quintessential role model of a clinician-educator-scholar,” says Dr. Robert Spiera, MD, director of the Vasculitis and Scleroderma Program at the Hospital for Special Surgery, New York. “I grew up seeing how taken he was with what he did, how good he was at what he did and how much he loved what he did.”
Still, Dr. Robert Spiera didn’t plan to go into rheumatology, the field in which his father spent more than 40 years as chief of rheumatology at Mount Sinai Hospital, New York. First, he looked at otolaryngology and psychiatry, eventually choosing internal medicine and eyeing a possible future in infectious disease. By coincidence, one of Dr. Robert Spiera’s advisers at Cornell University Medical College, New York, was Charles Christian, MD, the dean of the specialty who happened to have mentored Dr. Harry Spiera at one time.
When Dr. Robert Spiera became a rheumatologist, his father felt nothing but pride. “It’s great,” says Dr. Harry Spiera, who retired in October 2017, just a few months before his 87th birthday. He saw it as “an affirmation that I projected something that seemed to be worthwhile.”
He says talking over cases with his son is “like another dimension. We’ve bonded over it. … It is just wonderful being on the same wavelength.”
For Dr. Robert Spiera, a principal investigator for several clinical trials who has authored more than 100 articles, the lessons learned from his father could not be found in textbooks or on rounds. Instead, he learned about the days of treating patients with barely more than aspirin, steroids and gold.
“There’s a lot of evidence-based practice in rheumatology, as there is in other specialties,” Dr. Robert Spiera says. “But there is also a lot of art to rheumatology. And my dad had such a huge clinical experience, seeing patients and not only really taking care of them, but really intimately, deeply caring about them. … He is a great sounding board.”
Dr. Robert Spiera now has two children of his own who are entering medical school, one this fall and one in 2019. Like his father, Dr. Robert Spiera won’t pressure them about what specialty to choose.