When Christopher Ritchlin, MD, MPH, isn’t teaching students, residents and fellows at the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC), treating patients or conducting medical research in his lab, he’s monitoring the health of another sort of patient—honeybees.
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Explore This IssueJune 2016
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For the past four years. Dr. Ritchlin, professor and chief of allergy, immunology and rheumatology at URMC, has been a year-round beekeeper. He considers the duties of beekeeping akin to that of a physician: both involve a sensitive balancing act. Considering the unusual decline in honeybee colonies over the past 20 years, he is helping restore some of their population so they can continue pollinating approximately one-third of the world’s vegetables and fruits and converting the nectar they collect into honey.
“I’ve always been interested in honeybee behavior and the biology of honeybees and their social structure,” says Dr. Ritchlin, adding that beekeeping provides him with an opportunity to interface with one of the most organized species on the planet.
Dr. Ritchlin completed medical school at Albany Medical College in 1982. He spent the next four years working on his residency and chief residency in internal medicine at Mt. Sinai Hospital in Manhattan. From 1986–1990, he completed his fellowship at New York University, training in rheumatology and research, and he spent another year conducting lab research with Robin Poole, PhD, in Montreal.
He started his teaching and research career at the University of Rochester in 1991, and in 2007, he obtained a master’s degree in public health at the same institution. He focused on molecular biology, researching the relationship between gene activation and joint inflammation.
“The MPH allowed me to concentrate on how to really look at patient-oriented research using clinical trials, as well as observational studies, and add that to what we were already doing,” says Dr. Ritchlin.
Although his fascination for honeybees began after he enrolled in an undergraduate animal behavior course at the University of Rochester, completing his medical education, treating patients, conducting medical research and raising a family occupied the majority of his time. It wasn’t until 2011—more than three decades after taking that course—that he began reading books about raising bees, completed an eight-week beginner bee course sponsored by the Ontario Finger Lakes Beekeepers Association and attended the organization’s monthly meetings.