Specialty Profiles

What it's like to be in physical medicine and rehabilitation: Shadowing Dr. Wolfe


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.

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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

Specialty: PM&R

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?

Half the dues, all the AMA benefits!

  • Find your perfect match using full features of FREIDA™, the AMA Residency & Fellowship Database®
  • Distinguish yourself with AMA leadership opportunities

Supporting you today as a medical student. Protecting your future as a physician.

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:

American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation

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.

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Want to learn more about life in PM&R?