Is it 2024 already? It seems like yesterday that I stuffed all my earthly belongings into my black Volkswagen Jetta and headed from Lexington, Ky., to Iowa City, Iowa, to start my rheumatology fellowship.1 That was 10 years ago. Now, in 2024, as I go online—particularly on social media—and see the various happy, smiling faces of those who are going to enter our rheumatology family in 2024, I’m struck by the wistfulness of time marching forward. What world will these newest rheumatologists inherit in the year 2034, as they pick up an antique version of the January 2024 edition of The Rheumatologist? Let’s rheuminate!
The Rheumatologist as a Tech Wiz
It’s safe to say that in 2034, the healthcare field will likely be unrecognizable. As much as 2014 seems alien to us in 2024, 2034 will be even more bizarre because technology is advancing at an accelerating pace. I firmly believe that artificial intelligence is here to stay and will do a lot of the heavy, repetitive work that we rheumatologists now have to do as part of our jobs. Although there are concerns that artificial intelligence will subsume our field and render the need for human rheumatologists moot, I am confident that rheumatologists will figure out ways to synergize our unique humanistic skills with technology.
While a large part of my fellowship was spent in memorizing details and applying them in clinical settings, the rheumatology fellows entering in 2024 are probably going to be better served by learning the technological tools that make such memorization unnecessary. That means not only understanding the basics of artificial intelligence and large language models, but going beyond to appraise the utility of different tools in the clinical setting. I would counsel rheumatology fellows to practice their prompting skills and to continuously challenge their creativity in using tools, such as ChatGPT, to solve practical problems.
At the same time, I would strongly encourage fellows to remember the things that only they can offer to patients. I doubt that patients will ever be truly comfortable with a machine being their clinician, even if the clinician heavily uses those computer-based tools.
Although anything can happen, I don’t see more technology as a solution to our workforce crisis, especially in rural and other underserved areas. The emerging rheumatologists of 2034 will have to devise new methods of extending themselves without over-extension and over-reliance on technology.