Sindhu Johnson, MD, PhD, FRCPC, was a medical student when she realized her interest in clinical research. “But I didn’t have the appropriate skillset,” she says.
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After completing her medical training, Dr. Johnson pursued a PhD in clinical epidemiology at the Institute of Health Policy, Management and Evaluation (IHPME), the University of Toronto, Canada. “That route gave me the tools to do clinical research. I trained with Gillian Hawker, MD, FRCPC, and Brian Feldman, MD, MSc, FRCPC—internationally renowned clinical rheumatologists and epidemiologists,” she says.
Dr. Johnson was first drawn to rheumatology because she enjoys treating patients with multi-system diseases. “I like the challenge of putting the pieces of the puzzle together,” she says.
She has developed expertise researching scleroderma, which she calls the “prototype for multi-system disease,” and is hopeful about the future of the field. “When I was finishing my fellowship, bosentan came to market to treat pulmonary hypertension, one of the leading causes of death for these patients,” Dr. Johnson says. “I felt it was an exciting time to do research because we are on the cusp of finding better treatments and possibly a cure.”
Today, Dr. Johnson is a clinician-scientist and associate professor of medicine at the University of Toronto. She is also the new chair of the ACR’s Committee on Quality of Care (QOC), a role she has seemingly been preparing for throughout her career.
As a PhD student, she got involved in the Classification and Response Criteria Subcommittee of the QOC and, under the leadership of Daniel Solomon, MD, MPH, contributed to a large review of all of the classification criteria in rheumatology. “I found my time on that subcommittee interesting and thought provoking, and I believe it was impactful for rheumatology research,” Dr. Johnson says.
She later served as the methodologic lead on the steering committee for the ACR/EULAR (European League Against Rheumatism) classification criteria for systemic sclerosis , which she calls “interesting and exciting, developing new classification criteria using methods I had used in my doctoral training.”
Dr. Johnson was then ACR lead on new EULAR/ACR classification criteria for systemic lupus erythematosus. She also became co-chair of the Classification and Response Criteria Subcommittee and served as its representative on the QOC. “I found that experience informative and educational, because I got exposure to guideline development and quality measures,” she says.
This past year, she contributed to a literature review for the new rheumatoid arthritis guideline, led by Liana Fraenkel, MD. She is also the ACR liaison for a new collaborative effort between the Systemic Lupus International Collaborating Clinics (SLICC) and the Lupus Foundation of America to develop a new systemic lupus erythematosus damage index.
As QOC chair, Dr. Johnson will oversee the “very robust pipeline” of classification criteria, response criteria, quality-measure projects and guidelines in various stages of development. “It will be exciting to see all of them come to fruition in the next few years,” she says.
She also looks forward to working with subcommittee chairs and with the ACR’s journals to offer clinically useful and scientifically relevant products to ACR/ARP members.
Kelly April Tyrrell writes about health, science and health policy. She lives in Madison, Wis.