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Do you ever feel like someone is sticking pins into your joints? Or maybe your shoulder hurts every morning when you wake up? Does your family have a history of arthritis? If so, than it is possible that a rheumatologist is the medical specialist for you. Rheumatologists are doctors who specialize in diagnosing and treating disorders that affect the joints, muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bones.

Rheumatologists are devoted to the care of patients with rheumatic diseases. These diseases are often manifested, at least in part, by the symptoms of arthritis. However, there are many diseases which may have arthritis as only a part of their clinical picture, or are not related to arthritis, that also require the care of a rheumatologist. Besides arthritis, rheumatologists treat certain autoimmune diseases, musculoskeletal pain disorders and osteoporosis. There are over 100 types of these rheumatory diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, gout, lupus, back pain, osteoporosis, fibromyalgia and tendonitis. Some of these are very serious diseases that can be difficult to diagnose and treat.

To explain arthritis more clearly, it is important to look at its link to autoimmunity. Each of us has an immune system that functions to protect us from infection by bacteria, viruses, or other micro-organisms. In the case of a rheumatic disease, the immune system is overactive, having lost its regulatory control. So instead of simply attacking bacteria or other foreign organisms, the immune system turns on its own tissues and attacks them. In the case of arthritis, the immune system attacks the joints and the lining of the joints resulting in inflammation in and around the joint.

However, these diseases may be manifested in a host of other symptoms including hair loss, skin rashes, mouth ulcers, lymph node enlargement, chest or abdominal pain, dry eyes and mouth, genital ulcers, and involvement of internal organs such as lungs, kidneys, or other systems.

Osteoporosis is a rheumatic disease that causes the bones to weaken and degenerate. This condition is prevalent amongst women over 50. Doctors are recommending preventative methods, such as good calcium intakes and extra Vitamin D. This preventative medicine is helping to reduce the number of cases and resulting injuries due to osteoperosis.

Many young people, including children, can get hit with osteo- and rheumatoid arthritis. It is not only a disease for the elderly. It is sometimes hard to believe that young people are commonly affected by arthritis, but more and more cases are turning up in children and young adults.

Many rheumatologists conduct research to determine the cause and better treatments for these disabling and sometimes fatal diseases. They act as consultants to other physicians in the diagnosis and management of these diseases, as well as providing accurate information to patients and their families.
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  Interests and Skills  
Rheumatologists are interested in helping people with disorders of the joints and all rheumatic diseases. They have the intellectual ability required to successfully complete the academic training and to pursue a course of lifelong learning and the stamina required to work long hours. They have excellent communication skills and can get along with people well and instill confidence. They will need emotional strength and maturity, and passion, empathy and energy.

Rheumatologists should enjoy finding solutions to problems, dealing with people, and directing the work of others. They must also be proficient in rheumatic medicine - they must have and apply the knowledge to diagnose illnesses. Also, ethics is a strong point for these types of people because they have to do what is right for their patients with their best interests in mind.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Examine patients, order laboratory tests, x-rays and other diagnostic procedures and consult with other medical practitioners to evaluate patients' rheumatology and arthritic problems
  • Prescribe and administer appropriate medications and treatments, which may involve giving simple lifestyle advice
  • Advise patients on health care, especially for diabetics and counsel patients on exercises and preventative health care
  • Coordinate their work with nurses, social workers, rehabilitation therapists, pharmacists, psychologists and other health care providers
  • Teach medical students and other health professionals
  • Rheumatologists' working conditions depend on where they work. Yet most keep regular office hours, with occasional longer hours, including evenings and weekends to accommodate patients' specific work schedules. In a typical day, most rheumatologists see a succession of patients, and may spend a considerable amount of time doing paperwork. This occupation can be both emotionally demanding and rewarding.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • A great deal of rheumatologists work in office and clinical settings, meeting with patients to diagnose and treat rheumatology and arthritic problems. Others might teach at universities and hospitals, conducting research, working in laboratories or working for pharmaceutical companies.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Rheumatologists can learn new skills, add more patients, or change jobs. They may work primarily as surgeons, directors of research, hospital administrators, medical school administrators, and teachers in medical schools and residency programs. They may manage clinics or do research for pharmaceutical companies. They may also write and publish in scientific and medical journals or take jobs in medical public relations.

  Educational Paths  
Becoming a rheumatologist requires a long educational road, so be prepared for a lifelong learning experience. Most rheumatologists start with a Bachelor of Science degree, however some Bachelor of Arts graduates may be accepted into medical school programs. While in high school, take math and science classes. Also, not all medical schools require a bachelor's degree and with good marks, some students can get accepted after two years of undergraduate study. Check with the school for their requirements before applying.

Rheumatologists complete four years of medical school and then spend three years in residency program in internal medicine. Then, they devote the next two or three years to specialized rheumatology training. Completion of the qualifying licensing examinations is required to practice medicine. Licensure by the regional licensing authority is required.

Finally, before entering medical school, volunteer in a hospital, nursing home or community center. This will give you valuable experience in dealing with people who need help and what it is like to work as a doctor.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002, http://www.bls.gov/oes/2002/oes_nat.htm

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