As a medical student, do you ever wonder what it’s like to specialize in physical medicine and rehabilitation (PM&R)? Here’s your chance to find out.
Meet Claire Wolfe, MD, a physiatrist and featured physician in AMA Wire’s “Shadow Me” Specialty Series, which offers advice directly from physicians about life in their specialties.
Read Dr. Wolfe’s insights to help determine whether a career in PM&R is a good fit for you.
“Shadowing” Dr. Wolfe
Practice type: Group practice in orthopedics, physical medicine and sports medicine
My typical day:
I’m semi-retired, so I work two days a week, now doing mostly EMGs and seeing some of my long-time patients. When I worked full time, I had no night/hospital call, and I usually was in the office from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. when my kids were small.
The most challenging and rewarding aspects of caring for patients as a physiatrist:
Challenging: You’re dealing with patients who have chronic problems, from benign muscular conditions and arthritis to spinal cord injuries, multiple sclerosis, stoke and amputations.
Rewarding: the gratitude of the patient for helping them make their lives a little easier and their ability to function with their disability better.
Three adjectives that describe the typical physician in PM&R:
Happy. Fulfilled. Unstressed.
What my lifestyle is like in PM&R:
I picked my specialty in medical school because of the lifestyle it offered: Flexible hours, no night calls, patients who rarely were in medical crises and the ability to make a difference for a population of people often overlooked. I liked the people in the specialty. [They were] very holistic and team-oriented (physical therapy, occupational therapy, social work, vocational, psychiatry), [even] before “team” was such a popular term. I’ve never regretted [choosing] the specialty.
The main skills every physician in training should have for PM&R but won’t be tested for on the board exam:
- The ability to communicate hope for folks with chronic illness.
- To be able to counsel not only the patient but their families.
- Often to interface with employers or (in the case of young people) their schools.
- To work for accommodations with government, business and education.
One question every physician in training should ask themselves before pursuing this specialty:
Do you want to have long-term relationships with patients, help those patients with long-term disabilities and help make them more functional in their lives, rather than “curing” them?
Three books every medical student interested in PM&R should read:
- The Anatomy of Hope by Jerome Groopman, MD
- Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom
- Anatomy of an Illness as Perceived by the Patient by Norman Cousins
An online resource students interested in my specialty should follow:
Additional advice for students considering my specialty:
Hopefully, [your] school will have PM&R practitioners. Seek them out, especially if there’s no rotation or other introduction to the specialty. Find a couple of folks to shadow. Most PM&R physicians practice primarily rehabilitation (e.g., spinal cord, stroke, head injury) or physical medicine (e.g., sports, arthritis, diagnostic EMG). Try some of each.
Want to learn more about life in PM&R?
- Hear what it’s like to practice in the field from Dr. Vasudevan, another physical medicine and rehabilitation specialist featured in AMA Wire’s "Shadow Me" Series