The American College of Rheumatology (ACR) recognized the 50th anniversary of the Association of Rheumatology Health Professionals (ARHP) during the ACR/ARHP Annual Meeting this past November in San Francisco. The University of Arizona Arthritis Center followed up with a reception in Tucson to honor past presidents of the ARHP. The Tucson area has the highest concentration of ARHP past presidents, with three: Dr. Eric Gall, Ms. Gail Kershner Riggs and Dr. David Wayne Smith.
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C. Kent Kwoh, MD, director of the Center, says Ms. Riggs and Dr. Smith were not able to make the trip to San Francisco, so he and his wife hosted a reception at their home for the three past presidents, who all have long histories with the Arthritis Center, as well as with the ARHP.
David Wayne Smith, DEd, DABPS, FACFE, MACF, was a charter member of the Arthritis Foundation’s Paramedicine Section, the forerunner of ARHP, when it was founded in 1965. He is currently the director of the Disability Assessment Research Clinic (DARC) at the Arthritis Center. As a specialist in disability determination, he evaluates musculoskeletal diseases either to get patients back to work with any necessary accommodations or to get them the disability benefits they deserve.
While Dr. Smith was ARHP president in 1978–1979, the organization formed a closer relationship with physicians. “We went a long way toward improving relationships and acceptance. Before that, the doctors hadn’t really accepted allied health professionals.”
He thinks the ARHP could benefit from having more members who are psychologists. “The psychological side of dealing with disability is as important as the physical. There should be more counseling in chronic illnesses.”
Eric P. Gall, MD, MACP, MACR, was one of the founders of the Arthritis Clinic in 1985, subsequent to his establishment of the rheumatology section at the Tucson Veteran’s Administration Hospital in 1973. Dr. Gall taught at the UA College of Medicine from 1973–1994 and was chief of rheumatology, allergy and immunology. From 1994–2009, he was head of the Department of Medicine at the Chicago Medical School, Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science, North Chicago. He returned to Tucson in 2010 and got re-involved with the Arthritis Clinic. Currently, he is the interim director.
During his time as ARHP president, 1982–1983, he says his main agenda “was to get physical therapists, occupational therapists and registered nurses to do research that would prove the effectiveness of what they did.” The ARHP’s integration into the ACR began during his term, so he was involved in integrating the committees in the two organizations.
His presidency had some controversy, too. He was the first, and remains the only, physician to serve as president of ARHP. “There was pushback from the allied health professionals that doctors would take over the organization,” he says. “And other physicians warned me I’d destroy my career by aligning myself with non-physicians.” In the end, neither concern became a problem.
Gail Kershner Riggs, MA, CHES, was ARHP president in 1980–1981. “I worked my way up through the ranks of ARHP,” she says. “Education chair, secretary, vice president and then president.” Ms. Riggs’ distinction is that she was the first ARHP president with rheumatoid arthritis. She thinks some allied health professionals may have gained valuable insights during her term in office. “There were members who expressed concern about whether I could handle all the demands of the position because of my disability. They had no idea what a person with RA could do.”
During her presidency, continuing education units were established for allied health professionals and groundwork was laid for the ARHP journal, Arthritis Care & Research. Her connection to the University of Arizona Arthritis Clinic goes back to its beginnings.
In 1973, the Southwestern Chapter of the Arthritis Foundation, under the direction of Ms. Riggs and Dr. Smith, applied for and received an Arthritis Regional Medical Program (RMP) grant from the federal government. As director of education for the RMP, Ms. Riggs was involved in securing one of the first 11 National Institutes of Health Multipurpose Arthritis Center (MAC) grants for the University of Arizona College of Medicine.
The Arizona MAC was a national resource for multicultural, multidisciplinary activities and evolved into the University of Arizona Arthritis Center.
The careers of these three ARHP past presidents have been intertwined for decades, and the University of Arizona College of Medicine continues to enjoy their contributions. Ms. Riggs taught a four-hour class in January, despite her increased disability. Dr. Gall is back as interim director of the clinic he helped found 30 years ago. Dr. Smith is considering retirement. He has thought about it in the past, but with his 90th birthday in April, it may be time.
Ann-Marie Lindstrom is an independent writer and editor based in the Tucson, Ariz., area.