Background The Finnish Rheumatism Association was concerned about the predicted shortage of doctors specializing in MSDs.The future of rheumatologists and physiatrists to patient ratio looks alarming. The demand for specialists in this field will grow further as the population ages. Currently, there are about 100 specialists in rheumatology of which about 60 work in the public sector. Half of the current specialists in rheumatology will retire by 2025, and the students enrolled in specialization programs are too few to cover the future demand.
Objectives The objectives of this project were to encourage doctors to specialize in rheumatology, to raise the national awareness of the importance of rheumatology in order to get decision-makers to create new posts at hospitals, to develop the teaching methods and to increase co-operation in the field and to improve the brand of rheumatology and our association. We wanted to get across that although rheumatology is in good hands at the moment, more rheumatologists, rheumatology nurses and researchers are needed in the future.
Methods First, we planned a concept, and then started to look for partners and sponsors for it. The Finnish Society for Rheumatology, The Finnish Rheumatology Nurses and four pharmaceutical companies joined us in our efforts to plan and finance the project. We commissioned a study to find out what kinds of views doctors have of rheumatology as a specialization field. In addition, we conducted a survey investigating the opinions of rheumatologists, rheumatic nurses and people with arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis. We wanted to find out what they were thinking about the rheumatic brand, and if they were worried about the predicted lack of rheumatological professionals in Finland.
We hired a professional advertising agency to design for us a nationwide commercial radio and poster campaign. We made a radio ad with prominent Finnish rheumatologist Riitta Luosujärvi, who described her job, and explained why students should consider choosing rheumatology as their specialization subject. The nationwide radio campaign aired on 72 radio stations across Finland for a period of one week. Also, two different kinds of posters were sent to hospitals, medical faculties of universities and universities of applied sciences for nurses. Political decision-makers were approached and made aware of our concerns about the threatening lack of rheumatic professionals, and the need for professors in the field.
Results According to our survey, many medical students and doctors considered rheumatology to be an old-fashioned and dull specialization field. In contrast, rheumatologists were very pleased with their choice of profession. Consequently, the problem is the image, not the actual profession. Rheumatologists, nurses and people with MRDs were all concerned about the prospective lack of rheumatological professionals.
The radio campaign reached 1.8 million Finns out of 5 million, and the feedback received from across Finland was very positive. The work of modernizing the image of arthritis continues, and the final results will not be seen until years have passed. The collaboration will continue this year.
Conclusions This was a historical campaign in Finland, as it was the first time that Finnish Rheumatims Association, rheumatologists, nurses and four major pharma companies co-operated to such an extent. We thus were convinced that we must try to modernize the image of rheumatology. It's the key problem in the field.
Disclosure of Interest None declared