Rheumatology consultants, also called consultant rheumatologists, are independent specialists who treat conditions of the bone, joints, and muscles on a referral basis. Since these specialists work in the consultant capacity, many manage other private practices or hold teaching and research positions. Rheumatology consultants are generally not employed by one medical center but instead contract with several facilities on a case-by-case patient basis, providing acute care for a varying length of time. While some may have long-term contracts, many work in temporary stints of one or two months depending on the demand for rheumatologic services; sometimes a consultant’s work is recurring based on a patient’s continued need.
A medical doctor who has spent three years specializing in pediatrics or internal medicine can qualify to spend 24 additional months training to be a rheumatology consultant. Consultants may or may not choose to get formally certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine after completing the requisite training and field experience in rheumatology. American certification is dependent on successful completion of a five-part exam. In the United Kingdom, a rheumatology consultant will need a fellowship from one of the Royal Colleges of Physicians to be qualified to practice.
Once trained, a rheumatology consultant will help doctors assess and treat patients who suffer from a wide range of rheumatologic conditions from arthritis to osteoporosis. Consultants tackle patient complaints of joint problems, skeletal disorders, and spinal pain. In addition, tendon conditions and illnesses like spondyloarthritis might be treated.
Since rheumatology consultants administer secondary care, patients must first be referred by their regular doctor. General practitioners do treat some simple rheumatologic conditions, but often muscle, bone and joint conditions can be hard to diagnose and require the intervention of a specialty. Fibromyalgia, for example, is notoriously difficult to discern without the intense study of a rheumatology consultant who can use X-rays, lab tests, and physical therapy to help identify and plan treatment for the condition.
Consultants carry out a lot of their work independently but generally are part of a patient’s medical team. They work in concert with the general practitioner and other specialists to coordinate corrective actions, prescriptions, and often psychological therapy to go along with any physical rehabilitation. Rheumatology consultants perform their own interviews and create a profile of every patient referred. These specialists also may accompany general doctors on hospital rounds to visit a patient. A rheumatology consultant often joins an independent practice with multiple peer rheumatology consultants to work as a specialty team.