What is a Rheumatologist?

By , MD, PhD

Rheumatology is a branch of medicine concerned with medical musculoskeletal disorders. This term includes systemic disorders of connective tissue, osteoarthritis, inflammatory arthritis, back troubles, soft tissue rheumatism and non-traumatic bone disorders.

A rheumatologist is a board-certified internist or pediatrician who is qualified by additional training and experience in the diagnosis and treatment of more than 200 different rheumatologic diseases. Their focus is on conservative, non-surgical treatment of osteoarthritis and regional musculoskeletal conditions, but also on managing autoimmune rheumatic diseases.


Rheumatology is considered a specialty in medicine that is pursued after acquiring either a medical doctor (M.D.) or doctor of osteopathic medicine (D.O.) degree. A medical trainee in rheumatology is therefore a doctor who has completed their general professional training as a physician and is currently in an accredited training program to become a recognized medical specialist (variably known in different countries as an intern, fellow, resident or registrar).

As the practice of rheumatology is progressively moving out of the ward into the clinic, and out of the hospital into the community, this shift must be reflected in the training as well. That means attention of the training provider must be paid to ensure that enough time and space are allocated for training in these settings.

A majority of training programs in the US provide an appropriate training by current standards in the number of continuity clinics, sufficient on-call activities for weekday nights and weekends, joint interdisciplinary conferences, didactic activities, electives, scholarly activities and exposure to diverse rheumatology diseases.

The European Commission acknowledges the subsidiarity of each member state to recognize the completion of specialist training and has only set a minimum duration of training (which is four years). Still, the aim is to work towards the same standards of care and outcome for a patient anywhere in Europe by seeking harmonization of the content and quality of training.

A rheumatologist can be therefore defined as a specialist medical practitioner with completed postgraduate training in the diagnosis, management and prevention of rheumatologic disorders. Although not all rheumatologists practice such a broad definition of rheumatology, there is an agreement within Europe that training should follow broad curriculum.


The American College of Rheumatology (ACR) is the umbrella organization for entire spectrum of the profession of rheumatology in the US. In includes not only rheumatologists in all sectors (clinical practice, research, teaching, industry), but also other health professionals devoted to improving the health of patients with rheumatic illnesses.

The UEMS (Union Européenne des Médecins Spécialistes) is a non-governmental organization that represents national associations of medical specialists at the European Level. The aim of the UEMS Section of Rheumatology (also known as European Board of Rheumatology) is to preserve the highest level of care with the best outcome for rheumatologic patients through establishing and maintaining high professional standards.

Other important organizations related to the specialty of rheumatology are the Association of Rheumatology Health Professionals (ARHP), Coalition of State Rheumatology Organizations (CSRO), Asia-Pacific League of Associations for Rheumatology (APLAR) and International League of Associations for Rheumatology (ILAR).

Further Reading

Last Updated: Oct 19, 2015

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