The medical field offers a wide array of exciting specialties. If you want to work closely with patients, collaborate with a multidisciplinary team and you're fascinated by the bigger picture in pursuit of outstanding treatment outcomes, a career in physiatry may be the perfect fit. Physiatrists are physical medicine and rehabilitation (PM&R) specialists — diagnosing and treating various conditions related to the nervous and musculoskeletal systems. 

Read on to understand what a career in physiatry looks like and equip yourself to take your first steps in pursuit of this exciting role. 

Required Skills for a Physiatrist

Physiatrists fill a vital role in the health care system. With so many specialists, having a medical professional at the center of the rehabilitation process is important. Physiatrists understand a wide variety of disciplines and can thus see the whole picture. 

To pursue this career, candidates should possess a combination of skills to accurately and successfully assess and treat their patients. Here are just a few characteristics that help individuals succeed in physiatry.


Required Skills for a Physiatrist

Analytical Expertise in Anatomy and Physiology

A physiatrist's primary expertise is PM&R. They must have a background and depth of knowledge in anatomy and physiology — specifically understanding the relationship between the musculoskeletal system and nervous system. This expert understanding helps them use an array of diagnostic tools to pinpoint the correct medical or physical condition. 

Physiatrists also have the analytical prowess to quickly and efficiently examine medical problems and find a solution.

Work Well With Others Under Pressure

Physiatrists are often part of a collaborative team to help manage and treat their patients. This multidisciplinary effort offers the best outcomes. However, it means that physiatrists need the ability to work with others and lead the recovery process. This requires both written and oral communication skills. 

Because physiatry is fast-paced and sometimes stressful, a physiatrist must remain calm under pressure. 

Transparent Communication Skills and Compassion

Physiatrists work closely with patients and their families. They must adjust their language to translate complex medical terms, health conditions and treatment options in layman's terms. Transparency is also essential, as this helps builds trust between the physiatrist and the patient, as individuals process how their medical condition may impact their life. A healthy dose of compassion also helps physiatrists provide the emotional support needed for patients to pursue recovery.

Proficiency in Pain Management

An essential aspect of a physiatrist's role is pain management. The recovery process often includes a variety of pain relief methods for both temporary and chronic conditions. With such a wide array of pain medications and therapies available, a physiatrist needs to understand which can offer their patients the best outcomes. 

Computer and Writing Skills

Medical records are central to a patient rehabilitation effort for medical reports and insurance purposes. Physiatrists must possess above-average writing skills and proficiency in whatever electronic system their health care facility uses. 

How Can a Physiatrist
Help Patients?

Recovery from an injury or disease can be complex. From surgical specialists to physical therapists, rehabilitation often involves many health care professionals collaborating to ensure patients get the necessary help. In cases where a patient has multiple healthcare providers, physiatrists sometimes utilize a care coordination program to ensure that all healthcare providers are working together to provide timely, effective, and efficient care which can help prevent readmissions and improve patient outcomes.

Physiatrists play a unique role in patient care by working closely with a patient's care team to direct treatment efforts. Depending on their specialty, physiatrists can also perform specialized diagnostic tests or treatments requiring advanced training, such as electromyography (EMG) or trigger point injections.


Physiatrists also work to prevent disability and improve the overall health and well-being of patients.

shape-new-2 shape-2

Work Environment of a Physiatrist

Physiatry is a uniquely diverse field — and those pursuing this profession often have a choice between varied work environments. Many physiatrists end up working in a variety of practice settings throughout their career.

Whether as a primary physician or a consultant, physiatry offers both full-time and part-time work. Graduates can also choose between a mix of practice settings depending on their ideal physiatry model — something you may want to consider throughout your residency.

Some of the most common physiatry work environments include:

  • Skilled nursing facilities (SNFs).
  • Inpatient rehab facilities (IRFs).
  • Private practices.
  • Community health centers.
  • Government hospitals.
  • Spine clinics.
  • Non-profit organizations.
  • Pharmaceutical companies.
  • Academic settings and research opportunities.



Physiatrist Job Responsibilities

Physiatrists work closely with patients to optimize their quality of life despite the constraints of their condition. The overall goal of PM&R is to help patients achieve greater mobility and increase their adaptive functioning.

Physiatrists perform an array of tasks and diagnostic tests to help their patients. These responsibilities include:  

  • Examining patients: Physical and neurological examinations and diagnostic tests allow physiatrists to pinpoint conditions and offer the best treatment options.
  • Formal diagnosis: Once test results are in, physiatrists analyze their patient's symptoms and explain the diagnosis in an easily digestible way. 
  • Prescribing treatments or therapies: Physiatrists are well-versed in various treatment options, making recommendations and adjusting these as needed.
  • Instructing therapy efforts: Physiatrists lead physical therapists and other medical specialists in the patient's best interests.
  • Pain management: Appropriate pain management strategies assist the overall recovery process and ensure patients remain as comfortable as possible. 
  • Coordinating multidisciplinary team: Physiatrists work with many medical professionals, from nurses and occupational therapists to surgical staff and psychiatrists. They take the lead and ensure all treatment efforts remain cohesive. 


Physiatrist Networking and Career Resources

As with any medical specialty, the earlier you begin your pursuit of physiatry, the better. This will give you time to network, talk to attendings and recent graduates and consider your personal goals and family obligations. 

Networking is an essential aspect of a career in physiatry. This includes attending PM&R conferences or other sub-specialty-specific conferences where you can connect with others in this field. Be sure to have an updated CV and business cards. Even if you do not receive a job interview, the connections you make are invaluable. 

Organizations like Medrina, the nation's largest physiatry group, can support your ambitions and connect you to exciting career possibilities. 

Here are some PM&R job resources to help you in your search:


Help More Patients — Contact Medrina Today

Whether you're in the process of graduating or looking to change career paths, learn more about the growing field of physiatry from a national leader — Medrina. Connect with us today!

smiling black female nurse handshake