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How do I Become a Rheumatologist?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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There are several ways to approach a career in rheumatology, a medical specialty which focuses on the joints and soft tissue, depending on whether someone wants to treat children or adults. In either case, in order to become a rheumatologist, it will be necessary to attend medical school and to receive special training in rheumatology. Once qualified, it's possible to work in hospitals, clinics, and research facilities. Work in this branch of the medical profession can be quite varied and sometimes very challenging, as many conditions involving the joints and connective tissue are highly elusive.

The first step involves attending medical school. In order to attend medical school, a student usually needs to complete a bachelor's degree in biology or a related field, demonstrating a commitment to the sciences and interest in the field of medicine. Standardized tests are often required for medical school candidates, along with letters of recommendation, essays, and other supporting materials. The sooner people start thinking about medical school, the better, as work experience and a demonstrated interest in medical studies and extra credit courses will help bolster an application to medical school.

After four years of medical school, the student will need to apply for a residency in either internal medicine or pediatrics. After three years of residency, an additional two or three year fellowship in rheumatology will be required to become a rheumatologist. Rheumatologists can be either medical doctors (MDs) or osteopathic doctors (DOs), and students may want to consider the differences between these two approaches to medicine when they are applying to medical school and thinking about how they want to practice.

After qualification, a rheumatologist often pursues board certification with a professional organization. Board certification makes a doctor more employable, and assures patients that the doctor keeps up with new information in the field, and is committed to a high level of care. It's also necessary to attend continuing education courses and conferences so that a rheumatologist can monitor advances in the practice of rheumatology and learn about new approaches to various medical conditions.

In many cases, a rheumatologist may work with other doctors including general physicians to provide complete care for their patients. It helps to have a cooperative attitude, and a great deal of patience, as people suffering from joint conditions can be very irritable and frustrated, especially when their treatments do not appear to be working. This is even more of a problem in children, especially when the children are preverbal or developmentally disabled.

WiseGEEK is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By golf07 — On Nov 09, 2011

@sunshined - If you have health insurance, I would check to make sure what your policy states as far as a referral is concerned.

Usually, it is common practice to have a referral from your regular doctor when making an appointment with any kind of specialist.

This is not always the case though, and if someone is looking to find a new rheumatologist you may be able to do this on your own.

We needed to find a pediatric rheumatologist for my daughter when she was younger, but this was all done as a referral from her pediatrician.

By sunshined — On Nov 09, 2011

Do you usually have to have a referral from a doctor to see a rheumatologist specialist, or can you make an appointment yourself?

I have a lot of arthritis symptoms and think I need to see a rheumatologist, but my friend said I would probably need to get some kind of referral first.

This seems like it is just more money as you have to pay both doctors for both visits. It seems like it would be better to go straight to the rheumatologist rather than making 2 separate doctor appointments.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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