A simple comment from his older brother freed him of that notion and redirected him toward a gratifying career in medicine. “He said, ‘Get over it. You could be a doctor too,’ ” Dr. Borenstein recalls.
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He obtained his undergraduate degree from Columbia University and completed medical school and fellowship training at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. He says he chose the field of rheumatology because it posed intriguing challenges for him and offered opportunities to make a contribution.
Dr. Borenstein says that it’s an honor to receive the AF Award, which was recently presented to him at an Arts for Arthritis Gala award ceremony. During an acceptance speech, he paid tribute to his professors, who showed him how to be a compassionate physician while constantly testing conventional wisdom.
“I saw that they took care of people for long periods of time … that meant you were willing to take care of people with chronic illnesses, with all the ups and downs associated with it. At the same time, they also pointed out to me the fact that we really didn’t know much of the things involved with our subspecialty. There were many unanswered questions,” says Dr. Borenstein.
A relationship early in his career with orthopedic surgeon Sam W. Wiesel, MD, led Dr. Borenstein to his lifelong pursuit of better low-back pain treatments and the desire to write about what he’s learned along the way. Dr. Wiesel was interested in spinal disease and, wanting to work with a rheumatologist, began sending patients to Dr. Borenstein.
“I sort of became self taught,” Dr. Borenstein says. “I read pretty much everything that there was on the topic and started formulating my own ideas about it.”
Helping people and their doctors better understand back pain is important because back pain strikes so many people throughout their lifetimes, he says. “I’m constantly seeing patients who have difficulties with spinal problems, low back or neck. It keeps me busy on a daily basis.”
Despite a busy work schedule, Dr. Borenstein says he sneaks to a movie now and then with his wife and—taking his own advice to heart—still plays squash three times a week for fun and to keep energized. “I started playing in medical school and have not stopped,” he says.
Catherine Kolonko is a medical writer based in California.