National Spinal Cord Injury Association Resource Center
Many people are unaware that there is a special branch of
medicine specifically dedicated to the diagnosis and
treatment of physical disability. Physiatrists are
doctors who are certified as specialists in
rehabilitation medicine by the American Board of Physical
Medicine and Rehabilitation. The area of medicine they
practice is called "physiatry."
What is a Physiatrist?
Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (PM&R) was
born in 1946 in response to the challenge to help
disabled citizens reach their maximum potential. What is
so special about these specialists? After completing
medical school and obtaining an MD or DO degree, they
study four more years and take two extra examinations,
one written and one oral. The purpose of this extra
training is to make sure that physiatrists are focused on
the patient as a whole person. Most physicians deal with
illness and possible threats to life. The physiatrist
deals with functional loss and threats to living fully --
the physical and psychological disabilities remaining
after initial medical or surgical treatment.
The physiatrist often coordinates a team of other
doctors and health professionals in developing and
carrying out a comprehensive rehabilitation plan which
extends beyond hospital walls into the patient's family,
community, occupation, friends, and ultimate life style.
This rehabilitation team may include physical,
occupational, and/or speech therapies, nurses and doctors
from various specialties, including neurology and
orthopedics, psychologists, counselors or social workers,
rehabilitation engineers and others.
The physiatrist's success comes through a team effort
where the patient is an integral part of the team
process. Each improvement in function, however subtle,
can significantly improve the life of a patient.
ED: Adapted with permission from the
September, 1987 issue of New World for Persons with
Disabilities, a publication of California Association of
the Physically Handicapped, Inc., "The Pair-A-Docs
of Health" by Julie Madorsky, M.D. & Art
Madorsky at Casa Colina Hospital in Pomona, California.
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