Safia Siddiqui, MD, is a rheumatologist practicing in Center City Philadelphia. She is board certified in rheumatology and internal medicine. In addition to her work at Drexel, she is a volunteer for local community organizations and free clinics in New Jersey.
Dr. Siddiqui believes in treating the whole person, which is aided by her experiences as an internist before becoming a rheumatologist. She also has a special interest in collaborations with Drexel ophthalmology and nephrology specialists to help better care for her patients. Her special interests are seronegative spondyloarthropathies (where a patient has the antibodies that cause an attack on joints which leads to inflammation), lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and scleroderma (a chronic hardening and tightening of the skin and connective tissues). She also has training in pediatric rheumatology and works closely with her colleagues at St. Christopher's Hospital for Children to guide the care of pediatric rheumatology patients.
When did you know you wanted to go into medicine?
I come from a family of physicians. There are a lot of them, so I think it was very natural. I grew up hearing very interesting stories. Service was also important to me. My grandfather was a founding member of a medical school in India. We always had medical and surgical supplies at home, so I knew from a very young age that this is what I wanted to do. I wanted to be like my dad. As I became a teenager, I did dabble in other things. I wanted to be a business woman and a professional tennis player at one point. Finally, I came back to medicine when I was in college.
How did you decide to focus on rheumatology?
I chose rheumatology for two reasons. One reason is, it is one of the few fields that still relies on clinical examination and listening to the patient. When I was doing my internal medicine residency, I realized a lot of medicine is changing. It has changed from the time of my grandfather, you could say. There is less and less emphasis on clinical and physical exam or listening to the patient. There are more labs, data, x-rays and imaging. I still find it very interesting to actually listen to a patient and to their story.
The second reason is rheumatology is a relatively newer field compared to other fields. There is a lot of interesting stuff happening all the time. New medications are coming up. There were things that people didn't know existed before—conditions that were dismissed as vague joint pain or a vague rash—that we can now diagnose. Not many people know about rheumatology, so I find that very intriguing. I guess I have Sherlock Holmes in me. I'm a big fan of his, by the way, and I've read all of the books. I think that is why I was drawn to rheumatology more than anything else.
What do you specialize in treating?
I see all rheumatologic conditions like lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, Sjogren's (an immune disorder with dry eyes and mouth) and scleroderma, but if you ask me what I personally really like a lot, it's seronegative spondyloarthropathies because, again, there is no magic lab test to diagnose them. It's all clinical. For other rheumatoid issues and lupus, we get a lot of help from the labs, but with this it's totally clinical. With seronegative spondyloarthropathies, like ankylosing spondylitis or psoriatic arthritis, a lot of my patients kept going to different physicians and were diagnosed with either fibromyalgia or chronic pain syndrome, but they actually have a rheumatologic condition. My mentor, Dr. Brent, had a passion for it, so I gravitated toward it.
Additionally, my dad's an ophthalmologist, so I'm exposed to a lot of ophthalmology. In a lot of rheumatologic conditions, we see eye disease, so I also have a lot of interest in eye diseases and rheumatologic conditions.
Can you tell me about your collaboration with other specialties for treatment?
I regularly collaborate with ophthalmology and nephrology, because a lot of rheumatological diseases like to target specific organ systems. Some of my patients have really bad kidney disease, and some have really bad skin disease, and some have really bad eye disease. I'm not an ophthalmologist and I'm not a nephrologist, but it's important for me to look at my patients from these other perspectives. There is a lot of value in having interdepartmental things going on, because you can't figure out everything on your own.
I think there is a lot of collegial feeling and a lot of camaraderie here at Drexel Medicine. Even though I am new, I can walk up to other physicians and say, “Hey, I have a patient, what do you think?” I feel comfortable enough because I think everybody is very approachable, which is really great.
How long have you been here?
I started in April, but my husband works in nephrology and he has been here forever. For him, this is home—Drexel has been a second home for him. I know why he says that now.
Do you also teach?
Yes. We have four fellows, so there is a lot of clinical teaching involved, and we have lectures as well. We have internal medicine residents from within Drexel and also from outside. We have some podiatry residents who rotate with us, which has also been good. We have medical students, so there is quite a bit of teaching going on at different levels.
I think teaching is very important and is a big part of medicine. My mom always says that you better make sure the next generation are good physicians, because when you get old and sick, they're the ones who will be taking care of you. A lot of medicine comes from observing and style. Textbooks are not enough.
Medicine is still an art, especially figuring out the patient's history. Sometimes patients don't want to tell you everything and you have to tease it out. Even in physical exam, some patients underplay everything and some of them overplay everything. There's never a dull day.
You mentioned earlier that service is important to you. Can you talk about the volunteer work you do?
I trained in India, and as part of our training, we have a mandatory rotation in rural India, which has no roads that go there or anything. It is really an eye-opening experience. There are a lot of people who don't have access to health care, and to help them is amazing. Their diseases are much more severe because they don't seek care.
Before starting at Drexel, I volunteered at clinics in New Jersey. I was able to go to the Chinatown clinic, where Drexel physicians and medical students work to treat that community. . It was an amazing experience. I think because we can get so caught up in medicine with documentation, the bureaucracy of it, the insurance companies and everything, it's refreshing to do volunteer work and actually just do medicine and nothing else. It's gratifying, and it puts things into perspective. I think it also makes you humble as a human being. You have to be very thankful for what you already have, but sometimes we tend to forget to focus on what we have. We are already so blessed, and we already have so much. We have the facilities, and we have the opportunities. We have to give back in some way. What goes around comes around for sure.
What else would you like people to know about you?
I love fashion. I love art. I love books. I'm a people person. I like meeting new people from all over the world, actually. I love what I do. I'm not a researcher—I'm a clinician. I enjoy what I do, and I hope that the patients can feel that.