SOM Alumnus Receives Arthritis Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award

Stephen Ray Mitchell, MD, a 1977 graduate of the UNC School of Medicine, has been selected by the Arthritis Foundation Mid Atlantic Region to receive the Marriott Lifetime Achievement Award for 2012.

SOM Alumnus Receives Arthritis Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award click to enlarge Stephen Ray Mitchell, MD

Dr. Mitchell is currently the Dean for Medical Education at Georgetown University School of Medicine.

The award is presented each year to recognize and pay tribute to an outstanding citizen or organization for their lifetime achievements and to encourage support in the fight against arthritis.

“Coming from the Foundation, that’s very humbling to me,” says Mitchell, “because this organization has spent its lifetime taking care of children and their families. And I’d like to think that’s what I’ve done, but it’s humbling to hear.”  

Mitchell, who for 30 years has cared for children with rheumatic diseases, teaches and practices pediatric rheumatology at Georgetown. “There are a few of us, about 300 in the country now, I think, who are certified to do pediatric rheumatology,” he says. “So, there aren’t many of us. And the Arthritis Foundation has been very important, because they really have always had the patients at the center of things, and they’ve been very good advocates and have provided a lot of services, including helping to pay for care for the sickest patients. So the Arthritis Foundation’s always been there as a good friend.”

Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (JRA) afflicts only one in 10,000 children, but, says Mitchell, there are many more patients than people realize. There are numerous conditions that present with joint pain, including infections, leukemia, and Lyme disease, so all of these must be looked at. “Rheumatologists have to know about the whole person,” he says. “You can’t wing it, because these are diseases that affect the whole body.”

The shortage of pediatric rheumatologists has created a heavy workload that makes it difficult for communities to care for children with rheumatic diseases. Families often have to travel long distances to get treatment. Clinic hours are long. “There’s a lot of burnout in the field,” says Mitchell.

On the positive side, new effective drugs are available that target the inflammatory chemicals in the joints. Mitchell calls them “biologic patriot missiles.” He says that as a result “you don’t see children in wheelchairs—you don’t see children chronically on crutches.” Another development that has helped is the cell phone. “I’ll have moms sending me pictures saying, take a look at this rash—what do you think is going on? My cell phone is full of these pictures. It allows me to be more accessible to parents with sick children. I worry less.”

Mitchell will receive the Marriott Lifetime Achievement Award at the Arts for Arthritis Gala scheduled on November 17, 2012 at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Washington D.C.