What Does A Physiatrist Do (including Their Typical Day at Work)

Alyssa OmandacCareer, Overview

Salary, Job Description, How To Become One, and Quiz


Physiatrists help treat patients who are dealing with pain or mobility issues due to an injury, illness, or disabling condition. Treatments may include physical therapy, osteopathic treatments, prosthetics, and orthotics.

Doctorate of Medicine (MD) degree

Physiatrists are Physicians who specialize in treating musculoskeletal conditions, such as issues that affect the bones, joints, nerves, spinal cord, muscles, ligaments, and brain.

The work of a Physiatrist is often confused with Physical Therapy or Orthopedic Medicine, as they help patients deal with pain and mobility problems.

Unlike Physical Therapists, Physiatrists need to complete medical school and residency training. As with Orthopedists, Physiatrists often treat back pain, neck pain, and conditions related to physical injuries. However, they do not perform surgery.

What they do

Physiatrists help treat patients who are dealing with pain or mobility issues due to an injury, illness, or disabling condition. Treatments may include physical therapy, osteopathic treatments, prosthetics, and orthotics.

Consult with Physicians to Treat Patients

Physiatrists are often part of a team of specialists who treat patients. The patients’ Physician is responsible for referring them to Physiatrists.

After meeting with a patient, the Physiatrist consults with the Physician and other specialists to devise an appropriate treatment plan.

Assess the Needs of Your Patients

Physiatrists perform physical exams of patients to test their mobility and the severity of their pain. For example, a Physiatrist may test the range of motion of a patient’s legs or the impact of an injury or disease on their mobility.

Develop Rehabilitation Plans

Based on the assessment of the patient and consultations with other specialists, the Physiatrist develops a rehabilitation plan. Rehab plans often include a combination of physical medicine, flexibility exercises, and additional physical therapy techniques.

The Physiatrist may directly instruct the patient or refer the patient to other specialists, such as Physical Therapists. Along with a personalized physical therapy regimen, the Physiatrist may recommend the use of various medical devices and braces to aid mobility or provide additional support.

Prescribe and Manage Pain Medication

Part of a Physiatrists responsibility is managing the pain associated with injury, disease, or disorders. They prescribe and manage pain medication for patients. Depending on the medication, the Physiatrist may need to administer injections to relieve pain and help restore function.

Refer Patients to Other Medical Facilities

In many cases, Physiatrists develop rehabilitation plans that require specialized treatments from other medical professionals. For example, a Physiatrist may refer a patient to an Acupuncturist for medical acupuncture or a Physical Therapist to help with the prescribed flexibility exercises.

What is the job like


Satisfying Work

Physiatrists often enjoy the satisfaction of improving the wellbeing of patients.

You Can Work Anywhere

Physiatrists are employed throughout the world, providing a wide range of career opportunities.

Not Physically Demanding

Working as a Physiatrist is not a physically demanding job, as you spend most of your time in a healthcare setting evaluating patients.

You May Specialize in a Subspecialty

Physiatrists can keep their careers interesting and continue learning new skills by focusing on a subspecialty, such as Brain Injury Medicine or Spinal Cord Injury Medicine.


The Educational Path Is Extensive

Becoming a Physiatrist requires many years of training, including a Bachelor’s degree, a four-year medical degree, and residency training.

You May Work Long Hours

As with other Physicians, Physiatrists often work long hours during the weekdays.

Where they work

Rehabilitation Clinics
Sports Medicine Clinics
Long-Term Acute Care Hospitals

Physiatrists primarily work in hospitals, including public hospitals and veterans’ affairs (VA) hospitals. However, they may work in a wide range of healthcare environments, including rehabilitation clinics, sports medicine clinics, long-term acute care hospitals, and skilled nursing facilities.

Experienced Physiatrists may join or open a private practice, working solo, or with a group of specialized Physicians.

How to become one

Step 1: Take AP Biology in High School

As Biology is an essential part of your college education, try taking advanced placement (AP) Biology in high school.

Step 2: Earn a Bachelor’s Degree

Physiatrists need a Bachelor’s degree before enrolling in medical school. Common majors include Biology and Sports Medicine.

Step 3: Take the MCAT

Medical schools use the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) to evaluate applications.

Step 4: Earn a Medical Degree

Earn a Doctorate of Medicine (MD) degree from an accredited medical school.

Step 5: Complete a Residency Program

After completing medical school, you start residency training, which lasts three to four years and provides hands-on training as a Physiatrist.

Step 6: Earn a State License

Physiatrists need a state license to practice medicine. The requirements vary from state to state, but typically involve a background check, an exam, and administrative fees.

Step 7: Earn Board Certification

Physiatrists may complete oral and written tests administered by the American Board of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (ABPM&R) to become board-certified. This is an optional step.

Should you become one

Best personality type for this career

The Thinker

People with this personality likes to work with ideas that require an extensive amount of thinking. They prefer work that requires them to solve problems mentally.

You can read more about these career personality types here.

Physiatrists require good listening and observational skills to assess and diagnose health issues and physical abilities of patients. A Physiatrist also needs empathy and compassion to relate to their patients and understand their pain.

Curiosity is another common personality trait of Physiatrists and other Physicians, as curiosity allows you to continually seek alternative explanations and perform thorough investigations.

Take this quiz to see if this is the right career for you.


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