Désirée van der Heijde obtained her medical degree at the Catholic University in Nijmegen, the Netherlands, in 1986. Her PhD thesis in 1991 was entitled ‘Disease activity and outcome in rheumatoid arthritis. A methodological study’ describing among others the development and validation of the Disease Activity Score [DAS] and the modified Sharp score. She is a board certified rheumatologist since 1993.
Following a 1-year appointment in Sweden in 1993, she was appointed as a staff rheumatologist, and since 2001 as a professor of rheumatology at the department of rheumatology at the University Hospital Maastricht, the Netherlands, until 2007.
From 2007 onwards she is Professor of Rheumatology at the Leiden University Medical Center, Leiden, in The Netherlands and affiliated to the Diakonhjemmet Hospital in Oslo, Norway. Her major research interest is the methodology of outcomes assessment and its application in clinical trials. Specific areas of interest are radiographic scoring methods in rheumatoid arthritis [RA], psoriatic arthritis [PsA] and axial spondyloarthritis [axSpA], as well as scoring of MRI in axSpA. She is involved in many of the trials with biologicals in RA, PsA and axSpA as prinicipal investigator, member of the steering committee or as responsible person for the imaging part of the trial.
Van der Heijde was founder of the Assessment in SpondyloArthritis international Society [ASAS] in 1995 and chaired this till 2011; she served as a chair of the EULAR standing committee for clinical affairs betwee 2013 and 2017.
In 2011 she received the prestigious Carol Nachman award for her scientific contributions to the field of rheumatology and in 2012 she was awarded a doctorate Honoris Causa by the University of Ghent, Belgium. In 2017 she received the Jan van Breemen medal of the Dutch Society of Rheumatology.
Professor van der Heijde has published over 800 papers in the international literature
(h-factor 115, Feb 2018), as well as chapters in leading rheumatology textbooks. She is recognized annually as highly cited researcher since 2014. She is a regular reviewer for all the major rheumatology journals, and serves on the editorial board of RMD Open, and is an associate editor of the Annals of Rheumatic Diseases.