While rheumatologists in private practice face daily concerns regarding reimbursements and certifications, the Research and Education Foundation (REF) is working behind the scenes to help improve patients’ lives. Through its balanced core awards and grants portfolio, the REF supports education, training, and career development for the future academic workforce.
I recently spoke with Fort Worth, Texas, rheumatologist and REF board member Emily Isaacs, MD. She is a new board member and an active volunteer with the REF’s Within Our Reach: Finding a Cure for Rheumatoid Arthritis campaign. During our conversation, Dr. Isaacs made a simple statement that gets to the heart of the REF’s mission: “We are all in this together.”
The impending workforce shortage has both private practitioners and academicians worried about the care rheumatology patients will receive in the next 25 years. To combat this trend, the REF supports rheumatology training programs nationwide. This support is vital to these departments as they face budget cuts for salary support for our rheumatology fellows. We also support educational programs and extraordinary scholars with awards like the Amgen Pediatric Rheumatology Visiting Professorship Program and the Clinician Scholar Educator Award.
The REF’s Preceptorship program pairs high-caliber mentors with medical students to give them real-world experience in the field of rheumatology. Most students who are involved with this program have never been exposed to rheumatology and discover the program through an instructor or local physician who mentors students in his or her private practice. When we talk to students after their experiences, whether research or clinical, it is clear that they are very grateful for the chance to learn more about the complexities of rheumatic diseases. We realize it is vital for students to see what a wonderful and fascinating subspecialty we share, and we know that some of those students come back to rheumatology for their career.
The other half of the REF’s portfolio supports the early career development of rheumatology clinician–scientists. The REF provides several funding mechanisms for salary support of researchers that are not yet ready for National Institutes of Health funding.
So, you may ask, “How are we all in this together?” Dr. Isaacs and other rheumatologists who support the REF have provided the following answers:
- By supporting training institutions, we bring more rheumatologists to the field to help solve the workforce issues.
- By strengthening academic centers, we build collaborative resources for rheumatologists in private practice.
- By exposing medical students to rheumatology, we create more informed physicians.
- By supporting clinician–scientists who specifically study rheumatic diseases, we can move new therapies into the field so that you have the best medicine and treatment plans to care for your patients.
As the REF continues to strive for a brighter future for rheumatology, I hope that you will join Dr. Isaacs in supporting the REF’s efforts and truly make this a collaborative effort, because we are all in this together.
Leslie Crofford, MD, is the president of the REF and chief of the division of rheumatology at the University of Kentucky in Lexington. Contact her by e-mail at [email protected].