Clinician Teacher Program addresses rheumatology shortage

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Canada faces an arthritis crisis. While the prevalence of arthritis is already too high, it’s predicted to get much worse. By 2030, approximately 7 million or one in five Canadian adults will be struggling with arthritis. At the same time, the country faces a shortage of arthritis medical specialists. There are only about 350 rheumatologists in Canada – that’s half the number needed to provide sufficient medical care for the existing caseload. As well, almost one-third of our rheumatologists are expected to retire over the next decade.

The shortage of rheumatologists means that many people with the inflammatory form of arthritis won’t see a specialist in time to avoid permanent damage to their joints.

Inflammatory arthritis attacks the lining of the joints, causing painful swelling and stiffness, and in some forms of the disease, attacking other organs of the body such as skin, eyes or lungs.

“With so many rheumatologists retiring in the coming years and a steadily expanding population of arthritis patients that will need their expertise, we have an urgent situation on our hands,” says Ottawa rheumatologist Dr. John Thompson, president of the Canadian Rheumatology Association. “As the community of arthritis specialists in the country declines, those remaining rheumatologists will have even more difficulty accommodating new patients.”

The Arthritis Society is supporting many efforts across Canada to counter this shortage and meet current and future demands for quality arthritis care. A particularly successful initiative is the Clinician Teacher Program. The premise behind this program, which is made possible in part through funding provided by Hoffmann-La Roche, is that there aren’t enough medical students applying to rheumatology training programs to replace the number of retiring rheumatologists. One way to motivate students to choose rheumatology as a career is to expose them to dynamic teachers who can serve as mentors and positive role models.

The role of a Clinician Teacher/Educator is to increase the profile of rheumatology within undergraduate and postgraduate medical school curricula. The award, which is five years in length and compensates the candidate for time devoted to teaching rheumatology and mentoring students, is presented to outstanding individuals with an innovative approach to classroom instruction. Applicants must have completed their clinical training in rheumatology and hold a faculty/staff position at a Canadian medical school.

“From my own experience, I know how critical it was to have a guiding hand when making my decision to become a rheumatologist,” says Dr. Kamran Shojania, Head of the Division of Rheumatology at the University of British Columbia. When funded as a Clinician Teacher by The Arthritis Society, he was able to recruit an increased number of physicians into rheumatology training by, among other initiatives, setting up a rheumatology teaching website to inform and educate medical students and residents about the program. “This award allowed me to devote more time to teaching and interacting with students. That face-to-face contact is so vital when you’re trying to pass along your enthusiasm for your profession to others.”

In addition to the Clinician Teacher Program, The Arthritis Society also funds Rheumatology Residents awards to help aspiring rheumatologists complete their training. These grants provide an income to doctors as they undergo two years of specialized education. They also encourage provincial governments, which subsidize only a limited number of training slots for medical specialists, to match The Society’s contribution. Since its inception, funding from The Arthritis Society has made more than 250 careers in both academic and community rheumatology possible.

The Arthritis Society is Canada’s principal charity dedicated to funding and promoting arthritis education, research and community-based support. The Society has directed more than $165 million towards research for a cure for this disease, which affects nearly 4.5 million Canadians. To learn more about The Arthritis Society and its research funding programs, visit www.arthritis.ca or call the Info Line at 1.800.321.1433.