Expanding the Scope of Rheumatology Care to Communities in Need

The Arthritis Foundation 2023 Clinical Rheumatology Fellowships will help close the gap in the rheumatology workforce and widen the range of care to under-served populations.

By Vandana Suresh | August 3, 2023

Despite the considerable progress made in treating rheumatic diseases, the shortage of health care professionals poses an ongoing challenge in pushing back against arthritis. Further, the health care disparities between rural and urban areas continue to exacerbate the already heavy impact of chronic joint disorders on under-served communities.

Committed to reducing the burden of rheumatic diseases in the United States, this year the Arthritis Foundation has dedicated three clinical rheumatology fellowship awards with the dual goal of increasing the number of rheumatologists in the health care workforce and supporting physicians who are committed to providing rheumatology care to in-need populations.

The 2023 roster of awardees selected after a rigorous review process includes Duke University School of Medicine, North Carolina, Seattle Children’s Hospital, Washington, and The Research Institute at Nationwide Children's Hospital, Ohio.

“By expanding the number of clinical rheumatology fellowships, we are helping to close the gap between the number of people living with arthritis and the specialists who are trained to treat them,” says Maria Vassileva, senior vice president of scientific strategy at the Arthritis Foundation. “We are supporting the training of early-in-career physicians who wish to enhance their competency to care for under-served communities.”

According to the American College of Rheumatology 2015 Workforce study, the shortage of rheumatologists in coming years will be met with a commensurate increase in demand for arthritis care. The study indicates that by 2030, the demand for rheumatologists will have risen by 33% from that in 2015 while the number of available rheumatology health care providers will diminish by 30%. This divide has been attributed to several factors, including provider burnout and the high rate of retirement within this clinical specialty.

Although addressing the complex issue of workforce shortage requires a multifaceted solution, the Arthritis Foundation is making efforts in closing the gap in both rheumatology care and the radius of access to care through its clinical fellowships. For instance, the 2023 Clinical Rheumatology Fellowship award to Duke University School of Medicine will not just help in meeting the pediatric needs of the urban community of Durham, North Carolina, but also those of the state’s under-served, rural communities through electronic consultations.

Each 2023 Clinical Rheumatology Fellowship award, made available by the generous contributions of donors to the Arthritis Foundation, is a $150,000 grant disbursed over three years. One such award will help The Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital to train physicians to seamlessly transition between caring for children and adults from diverse populations.

The clinical rheumatology fellowship award from the previous funding cycle helped Seattle Children’s Hospital expand the number of funded slots for pediatric rheumatology. This year, the funding will allow them to improve access to care in several states without pediatric rheumatology services, including possibly the first pediatric rheumatologist to practice in Alaska.

Learn more about the Foundation’s other scientific initiatives that are shaping the way new arthritis treatments are developed and strengthening relationships between patients and caregivers.

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