The Pediatric Rheumatology Shortage: What’s a Juvenile Arthritis Patient to Do? – by Ashley Boynes-Shuck

Approximately 300,000 American children and teens live with juvenile arthritis – that’s about 1 in 250. Yes – you read that correctly: 1 in 250 kids suffers from arthritis. If that number isn’t eye-opening enough, check out this staggering statistic: there are only 250 active and board certified pediatric rheumatologists in the United States. Unfortunately, these specialists are mostly found clustered around large cities — and there are 11 states with no pediatric rheumatologists at all.

According to the Arthritis Foundation, “Arthritis is a disabling and painful disease that affects 50 million Americans, including 300,000 children.  Nearly 1 in 250 children are living with a form of arthritis. Juvenile arthritis is one of the most common childhood diseases, affecting more children than cystic fibrosis and muscular dystrophy.  Currently, there are less than 250 board certified, practicing pediatric rheumatologists in the United States and about 90 percent of those are clustered in and around large cities.  Pediatric rheumatology has one of the smallest numbers of doctors of any pediatric subspecialty.  Of those children with juvenile arthritis, only one-fourth see a pediatric rheumatologist due to their scarcity.  The other 75% of juvenile arthritis patients see either pediatricians (who tend not to be trained in how to adequately care for juvenile arthritis) or adult rheumatologists, who aren’t trained to deal with pediatric issues, whether it’s the stunted bone growth that can result from arthritis and its treatment, or the unwillingness of an adolescent to take his medicine.  Furthermore, the diseases that are common in children can be very rare in adults, so a rheumatologist may have rarely, if ever, had occasion to diagnose and/or treat those related diseases and co-morbidities.  There are currently eleven states that do not have a single practicing pediatric rheumatologist and seven states with only one pediatric rheumatologist.”

While they may be better equipped to handle some of the nuances that come along with treating a younger patient population, a regular rheumatologist can treat a patient with juvenile arthritis.  Treating Juvenile Arthritis is not the same as treating adult onset arthritis, so the adult rheumatologist will most likely coordinate with a pediatric rheumatologist in another area.  If they currently aren’t during your treatment, don’t be afraid to ask them to and at least start the conversation!

You can learn more about juvenile arthritis at arthritis.org or via the Center for Disease Control. Learn how you can advocate to help the issue of the pediatric rheumatologist shortage, here. (<- This link includes advocacy info and information on the Pediatric Subspecialty Loan Repayment Program.)

Below is a graphic showing a state-by-state breakdown of pediatric rheumatologists in America. View the full-size version, here.


In Kindness,

Ashley Boynes-Shuck


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