From Marquette to Maryland to New York and a distinguished medical career. For Joan M. Bathon, M.D., it’s been quite a journey — one that’s touched many lives along the way. As for her Marquette experience Joan says “My Marquette biology and chemistry professors inspired and encouraged me to go into medicine, and I’ll always be grateful to them. Marquette was such an important and vital part of my formation,” Bathon says. “It was where I first probed questions relating to the meaning of life.” And not just in biology, she adds, but in “the wonderful philosophy and theology courses.”After Marquette, Bathon attended the University of Maryland School of Medicine, where she received her medical degree and completed her internship and residency in internal medicine. She completed a post-doctoral fellowship in rheumatology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and joined its faculty in 1986. She went on to become the Deputy Director of the Division of Rheumatology and Director of the Johns Hopkins Arthritis Center, clinical researcher and practicing physician. While at Johns Hopkins, Dr. Bathon played a pivotal role in the development of new treatments to combat the crippling, painful effects of rheumatoid arthritis (RA).
Recently Dr. Bathon was recruited to the position of Director of the Division of Rheumatology at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. Dr. Bathon has been the PI on a number of pivotal clinical trials of novel biologic therapies in RA; in one of these, her lab was the first to describe the ability of a tumor necrosis factor inhibitor (as monotherapy) to suppress the natural progression of joint damage in RA. She has been particularly interested in the effects of chronic rheumatoid inflammation on the clinical phenotype of RA, as manifested by accelerated atherosclerosis, myocardial dysfunction, altered body composition and interstitial lung disease. Dr. Bathon and her colleagues have taken a combined epidemiological/ translational approach to address these questions, by establishing and following an RA cohort over a prolonged period of time, and by combining sensitive imaging techniques with biomarker studies and clinical outcome assessments. In these studies Dr. Bathon was the first to report increased total body fat - and in particular increased visceral fat, the depot most associated with cardiovascular risk – in RA patients compared to controls. Her group also reported left ventricular mass to be significantly lower in RA which was an unexpected and novel finding.
Dr. Bathon is past Associate Editor of Arthritis Research and Therapy and past Advisory Editor of Arthritis and Rheumatism. She is a past member of the FDA Arthritis Advisory Committee, and has served previously as a member of the Board of Directors of the American College of Rheumatology. Joan was a Co-Chair of the Women’s Leadership Council, and former Chair of the Department of Medicine’s Task Force on Academic Careers of Women in Medicine, all at Johns Hopkins.
Dr. Bathon states “I have the best job in the world, patient care, research, teaching — all wrapped up into one. What could be more satisfying?”
Charitable work, perhaps. Before leaving Maryland, Dr. Bathon extended the reach of her healing efforts to Lima, Peru, where she worked with a medical mission team ministering, in her words, “to some of the poorest and sickest individuals I’ve ever encountered.”
She has authored over 120 scientific publications and book chapters, and in 2009 she was honored by Marquette as the Helen Way Klingler College of Arts & Sciences Distinguished Alumna of the Year.