When the late Dr. Daniel Stechschulte Sr. founded Internal Medicine's division of Allergy, Clinical Immunology and Rheumatology in 1973, he grouped two distinctly different medical specialties under one roof. Generally speaking, while training programs for Allergy/Clinical Immunology are separate from those of Rheumatology, they share a common foundation — the science of immunology — so doctors can elect to be dually certified.
Now, division director Dr. Mehrdad Maz heads the Rheumatology fellowship program, while Dr. John Martinez oversees the training of Allergy/Clinical Immunology fellows. Having a full-time director for each program has allowed education to be emphasized as much as clinical service.
"We've organized more didactic conferences, including one on the basic science of immunology. From medical school to specialty training, there's a five-year gap where fellows haven't had many opportunities to open a basic immunology textbook," Dr. Martinez explains. "There's also so much to learn about the clinical aspects — taking care of hay fever, asthma, hives — that it's easy to shortchange basic science, which is still important in helping our fellows understand and correctly utilize new advances and therapies that are being devised."
A longer-term goal for Dr. Maz is to develop subspecialty clinics within the division. Each clinic will handle a specific disease, such as rheumatoid arthritis, vasculitis, scleroderma, spondyloarthropathy and lupus. "This will allow for a standardized way of managing our patients; we'll be able to provide effective treatment protocols sooner and enroll them in the right clinical trials," he says. "It's about being able to cater to specific complex diseases that are really manageable in an academic medical setting. First, though, we'll need to recruit faculty with expertise in particular areas of allergy or rheumatology."
In a similar vein to his long-term goal of organizing subspecialty clinics, Dr. Maz has plans to expand clinical trials and investigator-initiated studies within the division. "I'd like to involve more faculty and cover diseases beyond RA. The plan is to build a centralized research arm that includes, among many things, additional study coordinators shared by all our faculty. We hope this will happen within the next few years."