ACR President Joan M. Von Feldt, MD, MSEd, has been to every ACR/ARHP Annual Meeting but one since 1990. Dr. Von Feldt, a professor of medicine at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and staff physician at the Philadelphia VA Medical Center, has seen the meeting grow and remain the world’s leading gathering of rheumatology experts.
Dr. Von Feldt recently shared her thoughts about the Annual Meeting, the field of rheumatology, and her own career.
Why is the ACR/ARHP Annual Meeting the premier meeting in the rheumatology field?
There’s no other meeting that has the high level of science—not just clinical science, but translational and basic science—that really gives you a peek into the future of rheumatology. There’s no other meeting that can put all of that together for rheumatology. There’s cutting-edge science from all over the world. It’s not just domestic science; it’s global. Our large number of international attendees makes it a very exciting and vibrant meeting.
It’s always been a meeting to learn cutting-edge science, have opportunities for networking, and learn improved patient care at the clinical sessions. I do think that over the past decade there’s been a better emphasis on clinical sessions. In addition, the development of tracks has helped organize one’s schedule during the meeting, as has the meeting app. The tracks and the app help direct people to the sessions that make the most of the Annual Meeting.
What advice would you give somebody about how to get the most out of the Annual Meeting?
Focus on a track or disease so you don’t get overwhelmed. Attend orientation sessions to get familiar with what’s available. Walk through the Exhibit Hall to see the latest rheumatology products and services, and experience the meeting from all perspectives.
I have always loved the poster sessions, and the opportunity to interact with the scientists and investigators. Talking to them makes learning easier, and their passion is contagious—that’s one of the best things about our meeting.
What do you remember about your first Annual Meeting?
I remember being overwhelmed and thinking I could never know everything I needed to know to be a good rheumatologist. But at the same time, I was discovering so many great things and having so much fun attending the sessions, picking and choosing what I wanted to go to. And best of all, walking out of one session if I didn’t like it, and finding something I did like right next door.
Describe your “dream day” or “dream schedule” at the Annual Meeting.
- Spend more time at the posters—there will be nearly 4,000 original works in rheumatic disease to peruse.
- Attend the Year in Review—this session will review the most important publications related to basic science of rheumatology, as well as the most advances in clinical rheumatology.
- Catch up with colleagues.
- Attend The Great Debate: To Taper or Not to Taper? – Biologic DMARDs in Low Rheumatoid Arthritis Disease Activity.
- Watch the Knowledge Bowl Final Round.
- Attend the Opening Lecture and Awards—this year’s opening lecture will describe some of the most promising health innovations in the field of connected health and tie them into how this phenomenon can transform rheumatology.
- Go to all three Plenary Sessions.
- Attend Rheumatology Roundup, the wrap-up session, on the last day.
Where do you see the rheumatology field heading over the next few years?
Targeted therapies for more diseases. We have a disease (rheumatoid arthritis) where we have a lot of targeted therapies, and we have some targeting for other inflammatory arthritides, and then we have almost nothing. But every year there are new and emerging therapies that are in early clinical trials for our other patients, for example, patients with scleroderma and lupus, which historically had no or very limited therapies, so this is very exciting. Better treatments that may put our patients in remission and have few(er) side effects is something all rheumatologists hope for.
How did you decide on a career in rheumatology?
I finished my internal medicine residency and then did outpatient medicine in an indigent migrant worker clinic for a couple of years. I was taking care of migrant and orange grove workers in Florida, and I cared for a lot of patients who had rheumatoid arthritis. I thought that there had to be something about the pesticides in those orange groves, since it seemed to me that the prevalence in my clinic seemed disproportionate to the known epidemiology. It has now been shown that pesticides are associated with an increased incidence of rheumatoid arthritis, but 30 years ago environmental triggers of disease were not known. I enjoyed taking care of those patients, even though we had few therapies for them, and I wanted to focus my career on patients with rheumatic diseases and help improve the quality of their lives.