Rheumatologists are medical doctors who specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of diseases affecting the joints, muscles, bones, and tendons. They spend their days treating patients with common conditions like arthritis or lupus as well as rarer ailments like Kawasaki disease. They also commonly help their patients manage pain that results from these conditions, prescribe medications to treat them, and recommend physical therapy or further medical treatments.
Read on to learn more about what it’s like to be a rheumatologist and what it takes to become one yourself.
Rheumatologist Job Duties
The following are the typical job duties of a rheumatologist:
- Diagnosing, treating, and managing disorders affecting joints, muscles, bones, and other tissues
- Prescribing medications to alleviate pain or inflammation in various parts of the body
- Managing side effects of prescribed medications
- Performing tests to determine the cause of disease or injury when treatment is not effective or when new symptoms arise
- Helping patients manage their condition through lifestyle changes such as exercise routines and dietary modifications
- Conducting research to develop new methods and treatments for diseases and illnesses associated with the joints and muscles
- Consulting with other health care providers to help coordinate care
Rheumatologist Salary & Outlook
The median annual wage for rheumatologists is $235,196. Those earning higher wages tend to work in the scientific research and development services industry. The top earners of the profession make over $343,000 per year.
Demand for rheumatologists is expected to grow steadily over the next decade. This growth will be due in large part to the rising population and increasing age of patients with rheumatic diseases. As this group grows older and more susceptible to disorders such as arthritis and osteoporosis, they will require more medical attention.
Rheumatologist Job Requirements
To become a rheumatologist, you need a combination of these qualifications:
Education: A medical degree from an accredited school is required. In the United States, this usually means earning a Doctor of Medicine (MD). These programs include classroom learning that covers topics like anatomy and physiology to prepare students for clinical training.
Training: A rheumatologist will be trained through a residency in rheumatology. The first year of a rheumatology residency includes a series of rotations in different departments. In the following years, they will focus on studying rheumatology topics. Their training can be completed in a variety of settings, from community hospitals, to research institutions, to government agencies. Many residencies also offer fellowships in specialties within the field.
Certifications: Rheumatologists must be licensed by their state to practice medicine. No board certifications are required, but many employers prefer that their employees maintain some form of certification. The American College of Rheumatology offers several certifications for rheumatologists.
A rheumatologist must have the following skills:
Organizational skills: The ability to maintain and keep track of patient records, client bills, and private appointments.
Critical-thinking skills: In order to develop effective treatment plans for their patients, rheumatologists must be able to think critically and make sound decisions based on facts.
Time management skills: A successful rheumatologist has the ability to prioritize tasks, meet deadlines, and handle multiple responsibilities at once.
Communication skills: Rheumatologists must be able to explain complex medical information to patients in terms that the average person can understand.
Ability to do research: Rheumatologists must have the ability to conduct extensive research on topics related to rheumatic diseases and disorders.
Knowledge of medicine: Knowledge of medicines and medical procedures will help rheumatologists treat patients effectively. They should also have a working knowledge of genetics, which plays an important role in many rheumatic diseases.
Rheumatologist Work Environment
Rheumatologists work in clean, well-lit offices. They usually spend most of their time sitting and talking with people who have pain or other symptoms related to joint inflammation.
The job of a rheumatologist is stressful. They are required to remain calm, even under pressure or when facing the unexpected. The most stressful part of their job is making decisions about how to treat difficult diseases.
In most cases, the job is full-time. Rheumatologists typically work for at least 40 hours a week and often more, depending on how many patients they see and other professional responsibilities. They may spend additional time at the office or hospital in the evenings and on weekends.
Rheumatologist Career Advancement
As a rheumatologist, you may have the opportunity to advance to a leadership position within your organization. These roles are sometimes called Chief of Rheumatology or Chief of Medicine. These professionals oversee the work of other rheumatologists and manage budgets, capital expenditures, and staff development.
Alternatively, rheumatologists can break into the pharmaceutical industry. A rheumatologist with research experience can obtain a job as a medical director for a pharmaceutical company. Another option for advancement is to obtain a job as a consultant. Rheumatologists may also take on leadership roles such as President of their local or state medical societies. They may participate in committees that develop protocols and recommendations for national organizations.
Here are three trends influencing how rheumatologists work. Rheumatologists will need to stay up-to-date on these developments to keep their skills relevant and maintain a competitive advantage in the workplace.
Increase in Autoimmune Diseases
As life expectancy increases, many chronic diseases that are more common among older populations are becoming more prevalent, including autoimmune diseases.
Autoimmune disorders occur when the body’s immune system attacks its own tissues by mistake, resulting in symptoms like fever, joint pain and fatigue. The most common autoimmune diseases include lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and multiple sclerosis.
With an aging population increasingly affected by these conditions, medical professionals are facing an increased need for specialists to treat them.
Increased Interest in Prevention
As the general population becomes more health-conscious, many patients are now seeking to treat conditions before they become serious.
This has led to increased interest in preventative measures for people who are at risk of developing chronic diseases like rheumatoid arthritis.
Rheumatologists will need to continue educating their patients about healthy lifestyles that can minimize the risk of disease, which may require the use of new tools and technologies that are still being developed.
In recent years, mobile health apps have exploded in popularity and their importance will only continue to grow as technology continues to advance. These apps allow patients to monitor important health information that can be used by medical professionals in a variety of ways, including helping to develop more effective treatment plans for rheumatologists and other healthcare providers. In fact, one study found that 46% of rheumatologists use mobile apps regularly in their practice.
How to Become a Rheumatologist
1. Planning Your Career Path
In order to become a rheumatologist, you will need to be interested in studying medicine as well as have a natural interest in research. It is also important to be compassionate and empathetic toward your patients as you must explain the nature of their illness and how it may impact their lives.
The job requires long hours, extensive training, and a lot of patience. Those who thrive in these roles are often compassionate people who enjoy helping others; by contrast, those who do not like working with patients may want to pursue a different career path.
2. Writing a Resume
To show your knowledge of the field, be sure to list your specializations, certifications, publications, presentations at conferences, and membership in relevant associations.
When listing your patient care experience, it’s useful to include the types of services you offered. For example, you may have worked with patients who were referred by other physicians or performed initial assessments on new patients. You can also highlight your ability to implement treatment plans and provide follow-up care.
Also, you should demonstrate strong interpersonal skills through evidence of excellent communication with patients and other medical staff members.
3. Applying for Jobs
It’s important to think outside the box when it comes to finding a job as a rheumatologist. A lot of the same strategies that apply to doctors in general, apply here as well: building a strong resume, seeking out opportunities with top-tier medical facilities, and establishing strong connections with the people you meet.
In addition to seeking out new opportunities, it’s important to constantly refine your skills and maintain a strong network of contacts. Keep your resume updated and participate in online forums that allow you to meet other experts in your field.
4. Ace the Interview
When interviewing for a rheumatologist position, it is important to talk about your experience and your approach to treating patients. The interview is likely to include common questions about your education, practice history, management style, and your knowledge of patients’ rights and ethical responsibilities.
Many questions will relate to your experience with handling specific situations that arise in a medical practice. You can prepare by thinking of examples when you demonstrated efficiency in handling a difficult patient or an ethical situation.
Prepare well in advance by researching your interviewer’s background and reading up on different rheumatologic topics. Creating your own list of future challenges in the field can give you great ideas about what to discuss with someone who has already been in the field for a while and may share similar insights with you.