Meet the Doctor: Irene Tan, MD
Irene Tan, MD, is Division Chief of Rheumatology for the Einstein Healthcare Network. She sees patients at Einstein Rheumatology Associates offices in Philadelphia on Old York Road and at Einstein Center One on Bustleton Avenue. Beginning in July 2021, she will be Director of the new Rheumatology Fellowship Program at Einstein Medical Center Philadelphia. Additionally, she is a Clinical Professor of Medicine at the Sydney Kimmel Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University. Dr. Tan is board certified in rheumatology and internal medicine. She is a Fellow of the American College of Rheumatology.
Dr. Tan has received numerous recognitions, including designation as a Top Doctor by Philadelphia magazine and a profile in Exceptional Women in Medicine from Castle Connolly Medical Ltd.
We recently spoke with Dr. Tan about her career, her interests, and rheumatology at Einstein Healthcare Network.
Q: Why did you decide to become a doctor?
A: I felt the pull towards health, healing and the medical field since I was 13. Science opened up a world of endless wonders for me. I grew up watching shows narrated by David Attenborough, Jacques Cousteau and Carl Sagan. I borrowed library books on animal kingdoms, marine life, dinosaurs and space. I knew I wanted to devote my life to service, education or both.
Q: Tell us about your education background.
A: I received my medical degree from the State University of New York at Brooklyn Downstate Medical Center. My internal medicine residency was at Montefiore Medical Center and my fellowship in Rheumatology was at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, both in Bronx, NY.
Q: Why did you choose your specialty?
A: I discovered rheumatology quite late in my internal medicine residency training. I was already a third-year resident when I decided to do a rheumatology elective to round out my clinical skills. I thought I was going to see mostly geriatric patients with joint pain.
What I saw was an eye-opener. It dispelled all my preconceptions and misconceptions of what rheumatology was all about. The sheer breadth and depth of internal medicine knowledge involved in the practice of rheumatology was astounding. I was dumbfounded by the spectrum of individuals affected by rheumatologic disorders, from infants to geriatric patients. The limitless research to further unravel our understanding of rheumatologic disorders and treatments was breathtaking. Fostering therapeutic long-term doctor-patient relationships was icing on the cake. I realized that I had found my calling.
Q: What are your clinical interests?
A: I practice general rheumatology, which includes rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, gout, pseudogout, systemic lupus erythematosus, scleroderma, Sjogren’s syndrome, osteoporosis, osteoarthritis, tendinitis, bursitis, vasculitis conditions and Behcet’s syndrome. I am collaborating with our neurology colleagues for the care of patients with muscle disorders, including inflammatory myositis and myopathy. I am also interested in all types of COVID-19 associated rheumatologic disorders and ultrasound-guided joint and tendon procedures for rheumatic disorders.
The development of new therapeutics over the past two decades in rheumatology has revolutionized the care and dramatically improved the outcomes of our patients with safer, more targeted, and innovative therapeutic interventions. It really is a wonderful time to be a rheumatologist.
Q: What drew you to Einstein?
A: I have spent most of my medical career serving the urban underserved population at teaching hospitals – first in Bronx, NY, then Queens, NY. Due to family reasons, I built my own solo rheumatology private practice in Stamford, Conn., for seven years. It was an amazing and rewarding experience. However, the educator part of me was restless.
I answered the call of returning to teach and serve the underserved population by relocating to Temple University Hospital. I was the Rheumatology Fellowship Program Director for seven years before deciding to come to Einstein Medical Center Philadelphia.
In addition to continuing to serve the North Philadelphia population, Einstein offered me the opportunity to lead a division and to start a rheumatology fellowship training program. To build both a division and a training program from the ground up is a rare opportunity for me to continue to grow as a lifelong learner.
My vision is to start clinics dedicated to the needs of our patients with systemic lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, scleroderma, and myositis. I would also like to bring research and cutting-edge treatment to our patients in the dedicated clinic in the near future. In May, Einstein Rheumatology will join the Rheumatology Informatics System for Effectiveness (RISE) Registry. The RISE Registry is a qualified clinical data registry developed by the American College of Rheumatology. In addition to being a source of improving quality of care for our patients, benchmarking our practice to national best practice guidelines, the registry will also be a source of research for our division.
Q: Why should people choose Einstein for their rheumatology care?
A: Einstein Rheumatology is composed of a team of highly trained rheumatologists who are devoted to caring for patients with complicated rheumatologic disorders, and to training the next generation of rheumatologists.
Q: Who was an early role model for you?
A: Peter Barland, MD, was my role model during that decisive rheumatology elective. He is a master clinician, a humble teacher who is down-to-earth but with an encyclopedic medical knowledge, stupendous teaching skills and bedside manner.
Believe it or not, my sons, Peter and Christian, are my role models now. Peter is a self-proclaimed feminist and a perpetual optimist with a heart of gold. Christian is an old soul and magnanimous to a fault. They are sources of inspiration and hope for me.
Q: What is your favorite book?
A: Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. This book was about Louis Zamperini. He was an Olympic runner and military aviator in WWII. He survived being lost at sea for 47 days, starvation, shark attacks, then years of atrocious abuses as a POW in Japan. It is a book about one man’s capacity for survival, resilience, redemption and forgiveness.
Q: What is your favorite movie?
A: Alien, the first one by Sigourney Weaver. I’m a huge science fiction fan.
Q: What is your favorite restaurant?
A: I have a few favorites: Zahav, before its fame rose beyond city level; El Limon in Conshohocken, as I love their fresh loaded guacamole; Fiorino’s in East Falls for Italian; hoagies at Liberty Kitchen; and Delice et Chocolat in Ardmore for pastries.
Q: Is there a person you’d particularly like to meet?
A: Although he has passed on, I think it would have been amazing to meet Nelson Mandela. His quote on possibilities and self-determination really resonated with me: “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”
I would also like to meet Bill and Melinda Gates, the billionaires who are trying to be part of the solution in this world of ours.
Q: What is something that most people don’t know about you?
A: I backpacked solo in Western Europe for two months, just before starting medical school. I stayed at youth hostels and savored the tremendous spectrum of amazing cuisine and desserts on a shoestring budget. I came home with tastebuds jolted, to new life and a lifetime of stories to share.
Find out more about Rheumatology at Einstein.