Most members of the ACR know something about the ACR Research and Education Foundation (REF). It’s likely, however, that many don’t know as much as they should, considering the scope of its programs, its recent dramatic growth in resources, its ambitious agenda, and its critical role in creating a future for the profession of rheumatology.
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Explore This IssueMarch 2008
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This is the fifth consecutive year in which I’ve had the privilege of participating in the meetings of the REF’s board of directors, in the course of filling various roles for the REF and the ACR. The most recent board meeting, held January 18–19, 2008, encapsulated for me just how far the REF has come, and how much further it plans to go.
REF and ACR: Partners in Rheum
REF presidents serve two-year terms, and are members of the ACR’s Executive Committee. ACR officers participate in the REF board as voting members (secretary and treasurer) or ex officio (ACR president and president-elect). In this way, even though the REF is a distinct entity, it carries out its work in close coordination with the ACR. REF president Leslie Crofford, MD, recently succeeded James O’Dell, MD, who was preceded by Mike Weisman, MD. These three share a passion for the mission of the REF, and their leadership has been a remarkable blend of successful innovation while simultaneously strengthening the existing core functions of the REF.
The staffs of the ACR and the REF are also structured to balance the independent role of the REF with the advantages of organizational support from the ACR. The REF staff, ably led by Steve Echard, CAE, includes specialists in grant review, grant management, and development, but shares staffing with the ACR in such areas as communications, accounting, and information technology. The REF is a lean organization—approximately 85% of its expenditures flow out the door as research grants, with the remaining expenses in the categories of fundraising, peer review, grant administration, and infrastructure. This puts the REF among the ranks of the most highly rated of charitable organizations, in terms of how effectively the donor’s dollar is put to use.
Just as the ACR has standing committees in all key areas, the REF has a Scientific Advisory Council (SAC) that sets up the grant portfolio and supervises the study sections that review the grant applications, and a Development Advisory Council that figures out how to raise the money the SAC so eagerly spends. The Committees on Finance and Nominations are joint committees with the ACR. A variety of task forces are also hard at work on other functions of the REF. The REF’s governance structure, which is modified every few years in a strategic planning process, has proven to be nimble and effective in serving the mission of a rapidly growing organization.
REF’s Mission and Goals
The goals of the REF are to attract highly qualified individuals into rheumatology and the allied health professions, to foster academic career development, and—added more recently—to support targeted research in rheumatic disease. The portfolio of grants that are distributed by the REF to more than 100 recipients per year ranges from clinical or research preceptorships for medical students, to the Physician-Scientist Development Award for rheumatology fellows, to the grants awarded to established investigators for the most innovative research on RA, as our targeted research initiative, Within Our Reach, begins to bear fruit. And those are just a few examples of the more than 25 categories of grants that the REF now funds.