Supporting Early Career Pathways in SCI

By: Joy Guihama

Physiatrists are doctors who specialize in the care of people with disabilities, including those with spinal cord injury (SCI).  Trained in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (PM&R), physiatrists work to enhance and restore their patients’ ability to function and their quality of life.  The overall goal of PM&R care is to educate and empower patients and to maximize independence.

One of the most challenging decisions that many medical students struggle to make is what specialty to choose.  Exposing trainees to PM&R is critical in advancing the specialty and attracting medical students to become the physiatrists of the future.  Unfortunately, many medical schools do not offer PM&R as standard curriculum, making students unaware of this branch of medicine.

By funding SCI medicine fellowships, the Neilsen Foundation supports efforts to expand the network of physicians and researchers who work in SCI.  The Foundation has partnered with the Association of Academic Physiatrists (AAP) to expand eight-week externship programs that immerse medical students in clinical and research experiences, mentorship, and education on a variety of PM&R subspecialties, including SCI.  They offer hands-on, real world experiences, encouraging students to pursue a career in this specialty area.  Since 2014, over 55 students have received Foundation-supported stipends for SCI-specific research and clinical rotations during their summer externships.

These programs help reach and attract high quality medical students to the field of SCI.  The Foundation continues to look to enhance strategies to reach all stages in the SCI clinical career pipeline.