Education and Training Requirements

High School

Physiatrists must devote many years to study before being admitted to practice. Enroll in a college preparatory course, and take courses in biology, chemistry, physics, as well as English, languages, the humanities, and social studies. Be sure to take advanced placement or honors classes and strive to achieve high grades, ideally graduating in the top of your class.

Postsecondary Training

Physiatrists need to first earn a bachelor's degree from an accredited undergraduate institution. Some colleges offer a premedical course, but a good general education, with as many science courses as possible and a major in biology or chemistry is considered adequate preparation for the study of medicine. Courses should include physics, biology, inorganic and organic chemistry, English, mathematics, and the social sciences.

College students should begin to apply to medical schools early in their senior year, so it is advisable to begin your research into schools well before that and prepare to take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). All medical colleges in the United States require this test for admission, and a student's MCAT score is one of the factors that is weighed in the decision to accept or reject any applicant. The examination covers four areas: verbal facility, quantitative ability, knowledge of the humanities and social sciences, and knowledge of biology, chemistry, and physics.

It is recommended that you apply to at least several institutions to increase your chances of being accepted by one of them. Approximately one out of every two qualified applicants to medical schools is admitted each year. The American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS) will check, copy, and submit applications to the medical schools you specify.

In addition to the traditional medical schools, there are several schools of basic medical sciences that enroll medical students for the first two years (preclinical experience) of medical school. They offer a preclinical curriculum to students similar to that which is offered by a regular medical school. At the end of the two-year program, you can then apply to a four-year medical school for the final two years of instruction.

Grades are only one of the criteria considered for admission. Other factors include an interview, emotional stability, integrity, reliability, resourcefulness, and a sense of service. Extracurricular activities and awards are a great way to display these traits.

During the first two years of medical school, studies cover human anatomy, biochemistry, physiology, pharmacology, psychology, microbiology, pathology, medical ethics, and laws governing medicine. Most instruction is given through classroom lectures, laboratories, seminars, independent research, and the reading of textbook material and other types of literature. Students also learn to take medical histories, examine patients, and recognize symptoms.

Students become actively involved in the treatment process in the last two years of school. They spend a large proportion of the time in the hospital as part of a medical team headed by a teaching physician who specializes in a particular area. Others on the team may be interns or residents. Students are closely supervised as they learn techniques such as how to take a patient's medical history, conduct a physical examination, work in the laboratory, how to make a diagnosis, and how to keep all the necessary records.

As you rotate from one medical specialty to another, you obtain a broad understanding of each field. You are assigned to duty in internal medicine, pediatrics, psychiatry, obstetrics and gynecology, surgery, and other specialties. In addition to this hospital work, you continue to complete course work. You are responsible for assigned studies and also for some independent study.

Most states require all medical school graduates (M.D. or D.O.) to complete at least one year of postgraduate training, and a few require an internship plus a one-year residency. Specialization requires more years of residency training. For the physical medicine and rehabilitation specialization, three to four years of residency training is required. PM&R residency consists of one year of general clinical training (internship), followed by three years of PM&R training.

The Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education offers a list of accredited post-M.D. medical training programs in the United State at its Web site, https://www.acgme.org. Also, find information about PM&R residencies on the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation's Web site, https://www.aapmr.org.

Students must pass a specialty board examination to become a board-certified physician. The residency years are stressful—residents often work 24-hour shifts and put in up to 80 hours per week while earning a relatively meager salary. Additionally, some physicians who are interested in practicing in a subspecialty participate in fellowships that last one to three years. For a teaching or research career, you may also earn a master's degree or a Ph.D. in a biology or chemistry subfield, such as biochemistry or microbiology.

Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements

Certification or Licensing

After receiving the M.D. or O.D. degree, the new physician is required to take an examination to be licensed to practice. Every state requires such an examination. It is conducted through the board of medical examiners in each state. Some states have reciprocity agreements with other states so that a physician licensed in one state may be automatically licensed in another without being required to pass another examination. Find out about licensing procedures before planning to move.

Physiatrists get certified in specialized areas to improve their knowledge and skills. Many hospitals and practice settings require physiatrists hold board certification, as it demonstrates the physiatrists' value, quality, and commitment to patients. The American Board of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation provides board certification to physiatrists. Find information at https://www.abpmr.org.

Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits

Physiatrists have extensive education and training before they even begin their medical practice. Clinical training in medical college as well as the three- or four-year physical medicine and rehabilitation residency provides the greatest practical experience before physiatrists become licensed physicians. This is a profession where education is ongoing and success requires staying current on research. The job requires strong knowledge of various disorders, diseases, and injuries, and treatment options and preventive health-care measures. Physiatrists must have clear communication skills and be able to listen carefully to patients and discuss their conditions and treatment recommendations in ways that they can understand. The ability to collaborate with other medical professionals and care-team members is essential in this work. Physiatrists who open their own practice must have business skills and the ability to manage and oversee the work of their medical team.