How do I Become a Rehabilitation Physician?

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  • Written By: Amy Hunter
  • Edited By: Andrew Jones
  • Last Modified Date: 28 November 2019
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To become a rehabilitation physician, you must earn both undergraduate and medical degrees. A medical internship and a residency in rehabilitation medicine are also standard requirements. This type of doctor helps people suffering from disabling injuries or illnesses to regain as much functionality as possible. While each case is unique, the goal for each patient is to live as independently, and as free of pain as possible. Rehabilitation physicians work closely with a team of healthcare providers to enhance the patient's recovery.

To become a rehabilitation physician, a medical school graduate, who has completed an internship, will apply to one of the 80 accredited residency programs for rehabilitation medicine in the US. During this time, the physician may also consider pursing one of the sub-specialties of rehabilitation medicine. These include pain, spinal cord, sport, neuromuscular and palliative medicine as well as pediatric rehabilitation. The American Board of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (ABPM&R) works with the certification boards of pediatrics, internal medicine, and neurology to allow graduates to become board certified in both rehabilitation medicine and another specialty. Rehabilitation physicians may also pursue a Master's of Science or PhD in their chosen field.


To become a rehabilitation physician, a doctor must develop strong leadership and communication skills. During the rehabilitation process, each patient's care will be overseen by a team of doctors and other healthcare providers. The rehabilitation physician is typically the team leader and, with input from the other medical professionals, develops a treatment plan for each patient.

Rehabilitation physicians are the members of the treatment team who are often with notifying the patient's family of progress in treatment, and of modifications to the treatment plan. Rehabilitation physicians also explain to the patient and his or her family when the benefits of treatment are coming to an end. This is a stressful situation, and excellent people skills and empathy are an important part of the job.

The successful rehabilitation physician must be a well rounded doctor, with the ability to communicate with his peers and worried family members, as well as with patients who may have cognitive impairments. To become a rehabilitation physician, the doctor must satisfy rigorous educational requirements, and it is necessary for the doctor to remain up to date on the newest ideas in rehabilitation. Although the job is a demanding one, rehabilitation physicians typically find their work to be very rewarding.


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