Physiatrist is a word easily confused with psychiatrist, but the two are quite different. A psychiatrist deals with mental illness, while a physiatrist is a physician who specializes in musculoskeletal problems and rehabilitation medicine. As physicians, physiatrists are trained to lead a multidisciplinary rehabilitation team that includes other healthcare professionals such as dietitians; physical, speech and occupational therapists; nurses and prosthetists. To become a physiatrist, you must first become a physician and then complete special training in physiatry.
Getting Into Medical School
You must have a bachelor’s degree to enter medical school and must also pass the Medical College Admissions Test, or MCAT. Your bachelor’s degree can be in any subject as long as you meet the medical school prerequisites for courses such as biology, chemistry, math and English. Medical school training for a physiatrist is the same as for any other medical discipline, as it is the basic training in medicine every physician must have. You can choose between a traditional medical school and an osteopathic medical school. The training is essentially the same, but osteopaths are trained from the holistic -- or whole person -- primary care perspective. Osteopaths also receive training in spinal manipulation and other hands-on forms of healing.
In residency your training branches off from training for other medical specialties. Your first year of training is in generalized medicine, while the remaining three years focus on physiatry. Some physiatry programs offer only a three-year residency, which means you must complete your first or intern year at another institution and then transition into a physiatry residency. Medical students can choose an intern year in family medicine, pediatrics, general medicine or surgery, or an osteopathic intern year, according to the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. During residency, you will study neurologic disorders, learn how to manage patients after a stroke or amputation and care for patients with spinal cord injuries. You will see patients in the acute phase of their illness as well as during the rehabilitative phase. Most physiatry programs also encourage research during residency.
Although the training is comprehensive, some physiatrists decide to specialize and go on for further training in a specialty fellowship. Possible specialty choices include neurorehabilitation, pain medicine, musculoskeletal care, sports injuries or sports medicine, postoperative care, pediatrics and specialized rehabilitation, which can include the use of dance as therapy, family training for home-care management or palliative care. Physiatrists who are interested in research often choose a residency program that lasts five years and includes an extra year for research, then go on to a specialty fellowship with a focus on research.
Licensing, Certification and Job Outlook
In addition to your training, you must pass a licensing exam to practice medicine. Most physiatrists also choose to become board-certified in the field, although certification is not required for practice. Certification is available from the American Board of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation and consists of two exams – one written and one oral. The BLS notes job growth for physicians such as physiatrists is projected to be 18 percent from 2012 to 2022, slightly faster than the average growth of 11 percent predicted for all occupations. The job site Indeed reports the average annual salary for physiatrists was $256,000 in 2014.
2016 Salary Information for Physicians and Surgeons
Physicians and surgeons earned a median annual salary of $204,950 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, physicians and surgeons earned a 25th percentile salary of $131,980, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $261,170, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 713,800 people were employed in the U.S. as physicians and surgeons.