Sometimes it’s hard to get a song out of your head, especially when you can’t recall all the lyrics and struggle to find the words to fill in the blanks. That’s what happened to me when I started to write this column. A song, probably too dated now for many to find particularly compelling, kept playing in my head, distracting me from the words I was trying to write with the words from a song I couldn’t quite remember.
It went something like this: The time for closing books and long last looks must end. … But how do you thank someone who has taken you from crayons to perfume … it isn’t easy, but I’ll try.
The song, “To Sir, with Love,” iconic when it was released in 1967, capped the score of the eponymous movie. It is a song of tribute, expressing gratitude to a remarkable man whose mentorship and leadership transformed the lives of those under his charge.
For us at the ACR, we too must thank a remarkable man to whom we owe so much: Mark Andrejeski, who has served as our executive vice president for more than 30 years. At the end of this month, Mark will be retiring. This column, written in lieu of composing a hit song, is a tribute to Mark on behalf of all of us who have had the honor and privilege of working with him. It is our expression of profound gratitude for all he has done for the College and for our specialty.
But how do we thank someone who has taken us from a fledging society, with 4,000 members, a staff of 20 and Annual Meeting attendance of less than 1,700, to the world’s preeminent rheumatology organization, with more than 100 staff, 9,500 members and 16,000 attendees at the 2018 Annual Meeting? It isn’t easy, but I’ll try. Fortunately, I have help—in fact, the help of giants on whose shoulders I have been allowed to stand.
In 2015, Mark was nominated as an honorary member of the ACR. His nomination was supported by dozens of letters written by our past presidents, whose words create an impressive mosaic of the many ways Mark has guided and shaped the ACR, and by extension, brought our specialty forward.
We can cite his many tangible contributions: the establishment and growth of the Rheumatology Research Foundation, which is now the largest single funding source for rheumatology research; the inclusion within ACR of allied health professionals who now are part of our vibrant Association of Rheumatology Professionals (ARP); the launch of the Rheumatology Informatics System for Effectiveness (RISE) registry, which is now the largest rheumatology registry in the world, with vast potential to improve patient outcomes and advance clinical research through data collected on almost 2 million unique patients so far.
These accomplishments have had, and will continue to have, a significant impact on the future of rheumatology. They each speak for themselves, loud and clear, but also serve to tell us in far more subtle ways about the character of the man under whose leadership they were developed: his integrity, his inclusivity, his strategic vision and intuitive ability to know which direction the College needed to go next.
Mark’s integrity inspired and informed the guiding principles upon which we have built trusted relationships with our corporate partners, who donate to the Foundation and support its research and education activities.
His inclusivity has extended not only to bringing ARP into the ACR tent, but also to our outreach to international organizations, developing a collegial relationship with the European League Against Rheumatism (EULAR), and providing ACR staff to support ILAR and PANLAR (International League of Associations for Rheumatology and Pan American League of Associations for Rheumatology, respectively, of which we are members).
On the national front, Mark encouraged our active engagement with the National Institutes of Health, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration, the American Medical Association and the Arthritis Foundation.
Further, he ensured the ACR would remain home to all constituencies residing within the house of rheumatology, from bench to translational researchers, community to academic practitioners, as well as the diverse range of rheumatology professionals. Our governance and committee structure evolved under his guidance to encompass a cross-sectional representation of our specialty, organized around ACR functions rather than around constituent groups. Thus, Mark enabled us to learn from each other across different aspects of our profession in a way that elevates and empowers us all.
The unique creation of this level of collegiality and respect for the views of others within our specialty flourished because of Mark’s own example—his ability to listen without judgment and his innate understanding of the value and richness that ensue from maintaining and protecting professional unity.
Mark ensured the ACR would remain home to all constituencies residing within the house of rheumatology, from bench to translational researchers, community to academic practitioners, as well as the diverse range of rheumatology professionals.
Mark’s strategic vision, and moreover, his implementation of a robust strategic planning process, has allowed the ACR to skate where the puck is going to be in our efforts to advance rheumatology. The implementation of the RISE registry serves as but one shining example of the ways in which the ACR has been at the forefront of anticipating what needs to be done for our specialty. The commitment to build this infrastructure to support clinical practice and meet the demands for reporting data on quality performance was prescient, especially since preliminary planning began at a time when many practices had not yet adopted electronic health records.
Mark’s foresight has also been demonstrated by his attention to leadership development, both among the ACR staff and our corps of volunteers. Many have commented on Mark’s uncanny ability to spot talented individuals, whom he then gently cultivates, generously mentors and carefully advances to positions of greater responsibility in preparation for future leadership roles.
To recognize the importance of intuition often tends to sit uncomfortably with our scientific background and training. Perhaps here the words of Dr. Jonas Salk are most apropos when we praise Mark in this regard: “Intuition will tell the thinking mind where to look next.”
Trust & Friendship
No doubt many more tangible accomplishments over the course of Mark’s career deserve mention beyond those highlighted here. There is, however, something else, something intangible and unquantifiable, that may be his crowning achievement: Mark has set the tone for friendship, trust, camaraderie and loyalty for all of us who have been blessed to work with him.
There is probably no better testament to this achievement than the overwhelming number of responses from our past presidents to the news of Mark’s 30th anniversary at the ACR—marked at the time by their outpouring of gratitude, admiration and sincere affection. This year, at the end of March, the past presidents partook in a celebratory dinner to honor Mark’s retirement. It was an evening filled with conviviality and expressions of heartfelt appreciation for all that Mark has done for rheumatology through his long and brilliant career, a career that has changed our specialty and touched the professional and personal lives of so many people, a career for which we can never adequately express our thanks, even if we could write across the sky in letters that would soar a thousand feet high: To Mark, with Love.
Paula Marchetta, MD, MBA, is a rheumatologist in New York City and the CEO and managing partner of Concorde Medical Group, a multispecialty private group practice affiliated with NYU Langone Health. She teaches at NYU School of Medicine, where she is a clinical professor. Dr. Marchetta is the 82nd ACR president.