How To Become a Rheumatologist

March 15, 2024


Reviewed by:

Akhil Katakam

Third-Year Medical Student, Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University

Reviewed: 10/11/23

Are you considering a career in rheumatology? Keep reading as we explain everything you need to know on how to become a rheumatologist! 

If you have an interest in specializing in pain management and prevention, rheumatology may be the path for you! Continue reading as we go through all you need to know about becoming a rheumatologist.

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What Does a Rheumatologist Do?

Rheumatology is a branch of medicine that diagnoses and treats pain management caused by immune-related diseases, such as arthritis. So, what does a rheumatologist do? 

A rheumatologist diagnoses and treats autoimmune diseases that affect the body, such as arthritis and other diseases that cause inflammation and pain in joints, bones, and muscles. 

Unlike many other specialists who focus on specific parts of the body, a rheumatologist focuses on the entire body, as autoimmune diseases aren’t specific to one area. Additionally, rheumatologists interact with patients and clients and often provide follow-up care.  

According to the American College of Rheumatology, rheumatologists assess the following:

  • Joint disorders 
  • Physical and mental function of the patient and level of independence 
  • Results of lab imaging and tests
  • Treatment options and the need for further treatment, including referrals 

Rheumatologists will see patients of all ages, from young kids to seniors!

Steps to Becoming a Rheumatologist

Here are the steps you need to follow to become a rheumatologist. 

1. Earn a Bachelor’s Degree 

Before you can get into med school, you’ll need to earn a bachelor’s degree. The best pre-med majors include subjects in humanities, social sciences, and math. 

To be as successful as you can, get a head start. You can start preparing for med school as early as high school

2. Pass the MCAT 

Before applying to med schools, you need to take (and pass) the MCAT

Med schools take MCAT scores into heavy consideration when looking at applicants. Start studying for the MCAT early. Ensure you practice and consistently review the subjects and topics that appear on the test. 

3. Apply to Med School 

After your undergraduate degree and a good MCAT score, you can now apply for med school. To increase your chances of getting accepted into your school of choice, follow the optimal application timeline

It is no secret that getting into med school is competitive. If you really want to impress admissions committees, ensure you do your research on the best hobbies and extracurriculars to have on your med school application

4. Enroll in Relevant Programs 

Once you get accepted into med school and begin the next step of your education, ensure you take relevant courses that will prepare you for your area of interest. 

Look for, and take elective courses in rheumatology, immunology, and internal medicine. 

5. Apply for Residency

After you graduate from med school, start applying for a residency program. Check out the best residency programs in the US to give you some great options on where to apply. 

As rheumatology is a subsection of internal medicine, apply for residency programs in general internal medicine or pediatrics. 

6. Become Licensed 

In the US, all doctors must obtain their license before practicing medicine. 

Contact your state’s licensing board to get the exact requirements you will need to get your license. Once you complete your application, you should hear back in about 60 days.

Rheumatologist Salary

Rheumatologists make very competitive salaries. If you go into private practice, you can make even more money. 

The Medical Universities of the Americas lists the average salary for a rheumatologist at around $234,000. If you are just starting your career, you will most likely start at a lower salary. However, some rheumatologists can make up to $284,880 a year. 

FAQs: Becoming a Rheumatologist

Now that we’ve answered how to become a rheumatologist, you may have further questions about this specialty. We’ve got you covered! Read below as we answer some frequently asked questions. 

1. How Long Does it Take to Become a Rheumatologist?

From your undergraduate degree to the completion of your fellowship training, it can take upwards of twelve years to become a licensed rheumatologist. 

Here is a breakdown of the timeline:

From start to finish, becoming a rheumatologist takes about twelve years in total. It’s quite the time commitment, but definitely worth it if this is something you’re passionate about! 

2. Is Rheumatology a Difficult Specialty?

Like all medical specialties, rheumatology requires intense studying, review, and practice to be successful. While this branch of medicine isn’t easy, it’s not impossible by any stretch of the imagination. 

The more you work at it and dedicate yourself to taking your studies and training seriously, you should do just fine!

3. How Long is Rheumatology Residency?

Rheumatology residency programs are two years in length. Always double-check with the school and program you are applying to and confirm details such as length of time.  

4. Is Rheumatology in High Demand?

Yes, rheumatology is in high demand and is expected to continue expanding! The American College of Rheumatology says that the demand for rheumatology is projected to increase by 46% over the next ten years

If you’re willing to move, Canada also has an increasing demand for rheumatology due to the country’s aging population. But you should have no trouble finding employment in the US. 

5. What Skills Do You Need to be a Rheumatologist?

Since rheumatologists interact with clients and patients directly, you will need to have strong interpersonal and communication skills. As a medical professional, you will have to consider both the physical and mental well-being of your patients, so emotional intelligence and strong listening skills are also key to being a rheumatologist. 

Other skills that are important to have are:

  • Detail oriented 
  • Time management 
  • Critical thinking 
  • Problem-solving 
  • Thinking on your feet
  • Innovative thinking 
  • Strong research skills 

In order to be a great rheumatologist, you should be a well-rounded thinker and listener.

6. Do Rheumatologists Have a Good Lifestyle?

Yes! While rheumatology is not necessarily easy, it is a very rewarding career that gives people a great work-life balance and exciting opportunities. 

According to the Medscape Physician Lifestyle & Happiness Report published in 2019, rheumatologists are the happiest medical specialists outside of work.

Final Thoughts

Rheumatology is a great specialty in medicine and definitely one to seriously consider if you are passionate about pain management and prevention. With the bonus of a competitive salary and high rates of job and life satisfaction, rheumatology is a rewarding branch of medicine to pursue. 

If you have a strong interest in becoming a rheumatologist, follow our steps to kickstart your career. 

Best of luck!

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