Rheumatologists are medical doctors who specialise in diagnosing and treating disorders that affect the joints, muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bones.

Rheumatologists treat patients with rheumatic diseases which are often manifested, at least in part, by the symptoms of arthritis. However, there are many diseases where arthritis only forms part of the clinical picture, or which are not related to arthritis, that also require the care of a rheumatologist. Besides arthritis, rheumatologists treat certain auto-immune diseases, musculoskeletal pain disorders and osteoporosis. These diseases have over 100 variations, including rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, gout, lupus, back pain, osteoporosis, fibromyalgia and tendonitis. Some of these are very serious diseases that can be difficult to diagnose in the early stages.

To explain arthritis more clearly, it is important to look at its link to autoimmunity. Each of us has an immune system that functions to protect us from infection by bacteria, viruses, or other micro-organisms. In the case of a rheumatic disease, the immune system is overactive, having lost its regulatory control. So instead of simply attacking bacteria or other foreign organisms, the immune system turns on its own tissues and attacks them. In the case of arthritis, the immune system attacks the joints and the lining of the joints, resulting in inflammation in and around the joint. These diseases may be manifested in a host of other symptoms including hair loss, skin rashes, mouth ulcers, lymph node enlargement, chest or abdominal pain, dry eyes and mouth, genital ulcers, and involvement of internal organs such as lungs, kidneys, or other systems.

Osteoporosis is a rheumatic disease that causes the bones to weaken and degenerate. This condition is prevalent amongst women over 50 years old. Doctors recommend preventative methods such as good calcium intake and extra Vitamin D, which is helping to reduce the number of cases and resulting injuries.
Many young people, including children, can be afflicted by osteo- and rheumatoid arthritis. It is not only a disease of the elderly.

Many rheumatologists conduct research to determine the cause of and better treatments for these disabling and sometimes fatal diseases. They act as consultants to other physicians in the diagnosis and management of these diseases, and work with nurses, physical and occupational therapists, psychologists and social workers. They also provide accurate information to patients and their families.

Personal Requirements

  • pay attention to detail
  • have excellent communication skills and be able to work well with people
  • have emotional strength and maturity
  • be scientifically and mathematically minded
  • work well under pressure
  • enjoy finding solutions to problems

How to Enter

Schooling & School Subjects

Compulsory Subjects: Mathematics, Physical Science
Recommended subjects: Life Sciences

  • Pass matric with a Bachelor's pass
  • Meet the admission requirements (APS) set by the university
  • All applications for admission to MBChB and Medical degrees are subject to selection.
  • Due to the limited number of spaces available, only a small percentage of applicants are admitted.

What to Study

MBChB degree at UP, UCT, UFS, Wits, US, UL, UKZN:

  • Theoretical training: 6 years
  • Student internship: 1 year
  • Internship: 2 years
  • Community Service: 1 year at an approved medical faculty.

Registration with the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA) is mandatory for this occupation. Registration as an Independent Medical Practitioner with the HPCSA will only be permitted once all the necessary criteria have been met.

Specialisation in Rheumatology

To specialise in this area, a number of years of post-graduate study will be required.

Consult the HPCSA website for the most up-to-date information relating to this area of specialization. This information can be found in the various sections under the Professional Board for Medical and Dental (and medical science) professionals.

Refer to the medical faculty of the relevant university for additional information.


  • research organisations
  • private clinics
  • hospitals and medical centres
  • medical schools
  • pharmaceutical companies
  • private practice

Further Information

South African Rheumatoid Arthritis Association
Jacaranda Hospital
213 Middelburg street
Suit 209A
Tel: (012) 343-0428

Getting Started

  • speak to a rheumatologist to find out about this career
  • try to obtain part-time work as a receptionist for a rheumatologist
  • research rheumatology and related diseases

Programmes by Study Institutions

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