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What is a Rheumatologist?

Growth Trends for Related Jobs

Practitioners of “the Happiest Specialty” Bring Relief to Patients in Pain

A rheumatologist is a medical doctor who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of musculoskeletal diseases and conditions of the autoimmune system. Because rheumatologists typically work in private practice and outpatients clinics during regular business hours, rheumatology is among the most family-friendly medical specialties.

Job Description

Rheumatologists diagnose and treat diseases that affect joints, muscles and bones, including rheumatoid arthritis, gout, osteoarthritis, lupus, tendinitis and chronic back pain. They do not perform surgery and may refer patients to orthopedic surgeons in some cases. Physicians specializing in rheumatology may conduct research on musculoskeletal and autoimmune diseases. Some may teach in medical schools and supervise medical residents in clinical settings.

Education Requirements

Becoming a rheumatologist requires years of study and specialized training, beginning with a bachelor's degree. Although there is no formal requirement for the major field of study, most applicants to medical school hold a bachelor of science degree in one of the life sciences, chemistry or mathematics. Some applicants hold an advanced degree. Admission to medical school is competitive, requiring a grade point average of 3.7 or higher, solid scores on the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT), and letters of recommendation, usually from college professors, that attest to the candidate's academic achievement and medical school aptitude.

After earning the medical degree (either an M.D. or D.O., Doctor of Osteopathy), new physicians must complete three years of residency training in internal medicine or pediatrics; some rheumatologists receive training in both. Rheumatology is a sub-specialty that requires an additional two to three years of training and supervised clinical rotations.

All physicians must be licensed by a state medical board. Board certification is not required to practice rheumatology, although it is a highly desirable credential and may be mandated by some employers. Certification is for 10 years, after which practitioners can re-certify by successfully completing the board exam.

Rheumatologists should also participate in continuing education on an annual basis to stay up-to-date on the latest research and the most current treatments available for patients. Educational conferences are sponsored by medical schools, large medical centers and professional organizations such as the American College of Rheumatology.

About the Industry

Some patients are referred to a rheumatologist by their primary care physician, while others make appointments directly with a doctor. Rheumatologists are usually associated with a hospital and evaluate patients who are hospitalized for a rheumatic disease. Rheumatologists do not typically see patients on an emergency basis. Those in private practice have the greatest flexibility in scheduling and in limiting the practice to patients by age group or type of condition. Among medical specialists, rheumatologists report the highest level of job satisfaction.

Years of Experience

A variety of factors, including geographic location, affect pay for rheumatologists, whose salaries typically range from $193,198$247,299. Experience in the field is also a factor. Some average salaries include:

  • Less than 1 year of experience: $199,759$213,974
  • 5–6 years of experience: $201,582–$215,797
  • 10–14 years of experience: $208,507–$222,935
  • 20+ years of experience: $215,068–$230,909

Job Growth Trend

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that the job growth rate for all physicians, including rheumatologists, will be faster than average over the next decade. General population growth, along with the increase in the older population as baby boomers age, is responsible for the trend in addition to advances in medical research that contribute to better diagnosis and treatment.