Physical medicine and rehabilitation is a relatively young specialty. Established in 1947 by the American Board of Medical Specialties, physiatry is one of medicine's most comprehensive and multifaceted modes of treatment. Unlike most other specialties that focus on diseases or injuries, and attempt to ameliorate them, physiatry focuses on the functional abilities of the patient. The goal of physical medicine and rehabilitation is to assist disabled patients in achieving their maximum physical, psychosocial, and vocational potential. Care of patients with a disability demands more than skill as a physician; it demands a sensitive and discerning appreciation of the patient and the patient's family, friends, work, and recreation.
One of medicine's youngest and most underserved specialties, physiatry combines a broad spectrum of diagnostic and therapeutic skills. Patients commonly seen by physiatrists include children and adults with disabilities such as:
- pulmonary diseases
- vascular diseases
- neuromuscular diseases
Comprehensive rehabilitation frequently involves the integration of medical and surgical care with a program that may include rehabilitation nursing, physical and occupational therapy, speech therapy, psychosocial services, religious and vocational counseling, patient and family education, and therapeutic recreation.
The Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Northwestern University offers several educational programs for medical students and residents, based at the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab and other locations. The Department is also home to the Northwestern University Prosthetics-Orthotics Center for Research and Education.