Cheryl D. Lerchin, M.D.

What is a physiatrist?

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