Pearl S. Buck once said, “One faces the future with one’s past.” As I look forward to the upcoming year of my presidency and prepare for the challenges the ACR will face in 2009, I have also spent time reflecting back on what initially attracted me to rheumatology and why I still believe it to be a unique and rewarding specialty.
Like many of you, I chose a career in rheumatology during internal medicine residency. I loved rheumatology because the clinical challenges it posed were complex, chronic, and multidisciplinary. I learned that rheumatic diseases were complex, often perplexing syndromes rife with many unanswered questions regarding their pathophysiology, underlying disease mechanisms, natural history, and long-term outcomes. I learned that these conditions persisted for many years, often several decades, providing rheumatologists with the opportunity to develop unique, long-lasting relationships with their patients. And I learned that caring for patients with rheumatic diseases was a multifaceted, multidisciplinary effort, typically necessitating the creation of a diverse team of healthcare providers all focused on the patient. I suspect many of you were attracted to our discipline by these very same attributes.
Over the ensuing 21 years of my rheumatology career, I have had the privilege of working in a variety of roles. My first career priority was clinical care, later followed by clinical research and, most recently, education and administration. Each role introduced me to a different group of interesting and extremely talented people in our profession, and each taught me something new about rheumatology. However, the element that tied all of these roles together has been my strong commitment to rheumatology. I believe that, regardless of your professional focus, we are all united by a common purpose: to improve the lives of people with musculoskeletal and rheumatic diseases and to strengthen the rheumatology specialty.
Strength Through Diversity
One of the comments that has stuck with me from the recent ACR membership survey was the repeated assertion that “the ACR leadership is not like me.” I have thought about those comments a lot over the past several months and concluded that they represent not only a potential weakness but also a core strength for the ACR. A core value of the ACR is the principle that the college represents and includes all rheumatologists regardless of their professional backgrounds. The ACR is enriched by the varied perspectives that this diverse group of talented professionals bring because they are united by the common goal of improving the rheumatology specialty and the lives of those who are affected by rheumatic disease. As other societies have become fragmented into multiple smaller groups (i.e., groups for clinicians, clinical researchers, basic researchers, those with interest in one disease, et cetera), the ACR recognizes that rheumatologists represent many different walks of professional life and works to leverage those differences for the benefit of the organization. Although it would be easier to reach consensus if everyone involved shared the same ideas and opinions, we believe that the best solutions emerge from the collective insights, wisdom, and experience of a diverse group of talented individuals working toward a common goal. The ACR board is made up of just such a group—very motivated and devoted rheumatologists from a variety of personal and professional backgrounds who all have very different perspectives but who also share a core commitment to learn from the perspectives of others and to address the strategic direction of the organization together. The ACR’s competitive advantage is in the fact that it does not allow minor differences in opinion among members or volunteers to divert us from our true mission to advance the specialty. Instead, it encourages all of us to engage in open discussion and debate about our differing viewpoints and be active participants in the direction of the rheumatology specialty. This is a constant challenge. The ACR will continue to strive for balance and diversity of backgrounds, viewpoints, and talents among its leaders to reflect the rich diversity of the membership.