As a first or second year medical student, exploring PM&R as an option can be done through shadowing, contacting local residents and faculty, and through pursuing research on a PM&R relevant topic. There are some “externships” in PM&R available at certain institutions to first year medical students during the summer between first and second year. Click here for a Medical Student Roadmap.
As a third or fourth year medical student, you may wish to consider rotating through a clerkship in PM&R. Understanding the depth and breadth of PM&R is crucial in expressing your interest in the field in your personal statement and during interviews. The rotation serves both for you to get to know a particular residency program and for the program to get to know you. Making a good impression on a program by being proactive, motivated, and interested can help your application. Identifying faculty members who can write you a solid letter of recommendation during this time is also important. In addition, consider attending the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (AAPM&R) Annual Assembly as this will show interest in the specialty and give you additional insight into field.
If your medical school does not offer a PM&R rotation, it is common to shadow local physiatrists (outpatient, subacute, inpatient) even if they are not affiliated with your medical school. It is also common to do an away rotation as a 3rd or 4th year medical student through the VSLO application/website. Further information is available on the Medical Student Roadmap.
The major components of a residency application are Board scores, medical school grades, Dean’s letter (a compilation of your evaluation and summary of your performance in medical school), letters of recommendation (at least one from a physiatrist), personal statement, CV (professional resume), and your performance on your interview (if you are invited for an interview). Because physiatrists work with teams of other health care professionals to care for a patient, program directors not only look for solid grades and board scores, but also team-oriented students with good communication skills. Research experience is not required for residency application, but may make your application stronger. The research does not have to be in PM&R. If you are looking for research in PM&R, talk to residents or faculty members at your institution and let them know you are interested in helping out.
If you are applying for both categorical positions (4-year programs) and advanced positions (prelim/transitional + 3-year PM&R), you do not necessarily need to write 2 completely different personal statements for PM&R and for the prelim/transitional year programs. For the prelim/transitional personal statement, you can add or revise the end of your statement to reflect why you are applying for a preliminary or transitional year program.