Starting a Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation (PM&R) Interest Group

Career Support

Lack of visibility is a problem inherent to many PM&R programs. Few medical schools have required PM&R rotations, and most students interested in the field don't rotate in PM&R until their 4th year electives. Student-led interest groups can help to bridge communication between residency programs and medical students and increase student exposure to the field earlier in medical training.

Medical Students

Student officers should first become familiar with the American Academy of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation (AAPM&R) website. The AAPM&R is our representative organization and the largest group of PM&R clinicians. The website contains an entire section devoted to medical students that explains what physiatry is and it contains a broad overview of what to expect in a PM&R residency. In addition, there are links that provide a list of residency programs with contact information, which can be helpful for away rotations, and there are links to other important sites including the Association of Academic Physiatrists (AAP). 

The office of student affairs within a medical school may have funds available for student interest groups that they can utilize to sponsor meals (lunch talks are typically most popular) for students that feature PM&R speakers. Student leaders can also decide to include dues between $5 - $15 per year for student members if there are no available funds through the medical school. In most medical schools interest groups already exist, but you may be the first to start one in PM&R.

An easy way to spread the word is to start an event and email your fellow students. "Lunch and learn" formats are popular ways to expose hungry medical students who may not have heard of PM&R to our exciting field. Speaker topics can include musculoskeletal lectures that parallel anatomy courses, attendings can discuss what a typical day or typical week looks like, residents can discuss why they chose PM&R and share their experiences and advice for applications, 4th year rotations and interview season. The common use of Zoom and other video platforms during the COVID-19 pandemic has made it more accessible for speakers to join virtually, which may increase speaker availability by removing the logistics of having to physically be present in the middle of the day.

Additional interest group activity ideas: 

  • Joint sessions with orthopedic surgery groups to review musculoskeletal anatomy and physical exams
  • Joint sessions with neurology groups on shared topics, such as recovery timelines for stroke/traumatic brain injury patients or review of neuroimaging
  • Radiology speakers who can teach approaches to musculoskeletal imaging and/or neuroimaging at levels appropriate for medical students
  • Rheumatology speakers who can review pertinent rheumatological conditions
  • Orthotist/Prosthetist speakers to present an introduction to orthotics and prosthetics
  • Ultrasound learning sessions, perhaps with emergency medicine interest groups to get medical students familiar with scanning techniques
  • Musculoskeletal exams bootcamp review with PM&R residents for medical students just prior to starting clinical rotations
  • PM&R shadowing program where medical students can shadow residents and/or attendings for a day or several days in the first half of medical school to gain exposure
  • Medical Student interest groups can set up volunteer opportunities to help during adaptive sports events or general large sporting events in their local community
  • Upper-level medical students applying into PM&R can host mock interviews, personal statement review, or advice sessions with residents and/or faculty mentors.

Residents and Residency Programs

Residency programs and residents should also become familiar with the AAPM&R website so that they can direct interested students toward valuable resources. Residency programs should cultivate strong relationships with the student leaders of existing student interest groups at their institution. Residents and residency programs can help facilitate shadowing opportunities and clinical rotations. Working with medical school administrators to allow a day or two of PM&R service while on a core neurology rotation can help increase medical student exposure and highlight the multidisciplinary nature of the field. 

Residents can consider hosting a PM&R Fair for medical students where local representatives of ultrasound machines, botulinum toxin and prosthetics can be invited to provide models, machines and demonstrations to provide hands-on experiences. A half-day program is recommended with a general introduction at the beginning and then participants can split up into different rotating stations in small groups to maximize hands-on experiences. For geographical locations where there are multiple PM&R programs in close proximity, an annual PM&R Fair can be a shared event with rotating host institutions. Residents and attendings can also consider hosting an MSK station at ultrasound conferences designed for medical students.

Contributions from members of the Physiatrists in Training (PHiT) Council Board.