Exploring this Job

A good way to explore a career in health care is to volunteer in the rehabilitation department of a local hospital, clinic, or nursing home. Volunteering provides opportunities to work closely with other health care professionals and patients and see if this profession suits you. Conduct an informational interview with a physiatrist to find out what they like most and least about the work and what advice they can share with someone interested in this field. Ask your school's career services office for help with setting up the interview and prepare your list of questions in advance. Read publications on physiatry to keep up with news, developments, and job openings. Find publications at the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation's Web site,

The Job

Physical medicine and rehabilitation (PM&R) physicians, also known as physiatrists, diagnose and treat patients with various injuries and medical conditions. These conditions may be impairments and disabilities that are physical or cognitive. They examine and assess patients' physical strength, mobility, and/or their communication and cognitive abilities.

According to the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, among the most common PM&R conditions and treatments are back and neck pain; breast cancer; cardiac rehabilitation; age-associated changes; exercise and fall-prevention in the elderly; geriatric muscle disease; degenerative joint disease; cancer; fibromyalgia; stroke; brain injury; spinal cord injury; multiple sclerosis; ACL injury and rehabilitation; carpal tunnel syndrome; ankle sprain; lumbar disk disorders; osteoarthritis; to name only a few.

Physiatrists work in private practices, group medical clinics, hospitals, and other settings. They work in inpatient and outpatient facilities. Those that work as inpatient physiatrists usually treat spinal cord and brain injuries, stroke, burns, and musculoskeletal rehabilitation, among other conditions. They work closely with other physicians as well as social workers, and physical, occupational, and speech therapists in treating and managing patients' care. Physiatrists who work in outpatient facilities typically deal with conditions that don't require surgery, such as orthopedic injuries, pressure sore management, and chronic pain. 

After physiatrists examine and diagnose patients, they come up with treatment and prevention plans to help improve the patient's quality of life and restore independence. Physiatrists may treat patients with these types of procedures or services, depending on the patients' condition: ultrasound, injections of the spine or joints, nerve stimulators, nerve and muscle biopsy, prosthetics and orthotics, manual medicine or osteopathic treatment, spasticity treatment, which could be injections of Phenol and Botulinum toxin; or complementary alternative medicine, such as acupuncture.

Physiatrists monitor the patient's response to pain management treatments and procedures by conducting standardized clinical measurements and recording data. They use various medical software programs in their work, such as Biodex Balance Assessment for Concussion Management; PrognoCIS Electronic Health Records (EHR); GE Centricity Practice Solution; as well as e-mail software and Microsoft Word.