A physiatrist (fizz ee at' trist) is a physician specializing in physical
medicine and rehabilitation. Physiatrists treat a wide range of problems
from sore shoulders to spinal cord injuries. They see patients in all age
groups and treat problems that touch upon all the major systems in the
body. These specialists focus on restoring function to people.
To become a physiatrist, individuals must successfully complete four years
of graduate medical education and four additional years of postdoctoral
residency training. Residency training includes one year spent developing
fundamental clinical skills and three additional years of training in the
full scope of the specialty.
There are 80 accredited residency programs in physical medicine and
rehabilitation in the United States. Many physiatrists choose to pursue
additional advanced degrees (MS, PhD) or complete fellowship training in a
specific area of the specialty. Fellowships are available for specialized
study in such areas as musculoskeletal rehabilitation, pediatrics,
traumatic brain injury, spinal cord injury, and sports medicine.
To become board-certified in physical medicine and rehabilitation,
physiatrists are required to pass both a written and oral examination
administered by the American Board of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation
(ABPM&R). The ABPM&R also has agreements with each of the boards of
pediatrics, internal medicine, and neurology to allow special training
programs leading to certification in both specialties.
Physiatrists treat acute and chronic pain and musculoskeletal disorders.
They may see a person who lifts a heavy object at work and experiences
back pain, a basketball player who sprains an ankle and needs
rehabilitation to play again, or a knitter who has carpal tunnel syndrome.
Physiatrists' patients include people with arthritis, tendonitis, any kind
of back pain, and work- or sports-related injuries.
Physiatrists also treat serious disorders of the musculoskeletal system
that result in severe functional limitations. They would treat a baby with
a birth defect, someone in a bad car accident, or an elderly person with a
broken hip. Physiatrists coordinate the long-term rehabilitation process
for patients with spinal cord injuries, cancer, stroke or other
neurological disorders, brain injuries, amputations, and multiple
Physiatrists practice in rehabilitation centers, hospitals, and in private
offices. They often have broad practices, but some concentrate on one area
such as pediatrics, sports medicine, geriatric medicine, brain injury, or
many other special interests.
-The American Academy of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation