The first residents of the Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (PM&R) residency at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine are pioneering the new program that began in July.
Although the program is the first in Connecticut, it is not a new specialty. Beginning in World War I and expanding into World War II, the U.S. military offered support for physiatry as a medical specialty. As wounded soldiers returned home for treatment, physiatrists encouraged a holistic approach to restoring a soldier’s abilities. It has also been used to treat pain and disability caused by poliomyelitis.
Physical medicine and rehabilitation (PM&R), also known as physiatry, aims to improve and restore the functional capacity and quality of life of people with physical impairments or disabilities affecting the brain, spinal cord, nerves, bones, joints, ligaments, muscles and tendons. . Unlike other medical specialties that focus on a medical “cure”, the physiatrist’s goals are to maximize patients’ independence in activities of daily living and to improve quality of life.
“Physiatrists are experts in designing comprehensive, patient-centered treatment plans for disabled or disabled patients to improve their function and quality of life,” says Dr. Joseph Walker, associate professor of orthopedics at UConn Health.
The residency is a dynamic multi-hospital categorical program sponsored by the UConn School of Medicine and in partnership with Hartford Health Care as the primary site, Gaylord Hospital as the secondary site, and UConn Health.
The first residents of the four-year program began their transition year in internal medicine last July at UConn Health and Hartford Hospital. PM&R rotations will begin at Hartford Hospital Inpatient Rehabilitation and Gaylord Hospital in July 2023. Residents will also rotate through the Hospital for Special Care, Connecticut Children’s and Newington VA.
“Our goal is to give residents exposure to the full continuum of care, including inpatient rehabilitation, subacute rehabilitation, home care services, and community rehabilitation services while encouraging research opportunities during their training,” says Dr. Subramani Seetharama, Program Director, Chief, Division of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Medical Director, Hartford Healthcare Rehabilitation Network and the THOCC Spine Center.
Residents are thrilled to be the pioneers of this new program. Dr. Gage Hurlburt of Martinsburg, West Virginia wanted to complete his residency program in New England after graduating from the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine. He and his engaged couple paired up at UConn School of Medicine.
“I was impressed with the amazing program that Dr. Seetharama was able to formulate, which provides exposure to many different areas of PM&R with a solid curriculum,” says Hurlburt. “I knew it was a good fit when I got a feel for the program’s mission and goals and liked the community outreach component of the program.”
Coming to UConn School of Medicine was like coming home to Dr. Priscilla Mapelli, a native of that field of CT, who did her undergraduate studies at the University of California, Los Angeles and attended Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine in Harlem, NY for medical school. .
“I’m so impressed with the amount of collaboration and hard work that went into creating this residency,” says Mapelli. “The beauty of a new program is that it is still in development and Dr. Seetharama is responsive and receptive to feedback.”
Neither Hurlburt nor Mapelli had heard of PM&R until medical school, but once they did, they both knew it was an area they wanted to explore.
“Once I discovered PM&R and the ability to combine my interests outside of medicine with my interests in medicine, I was intrigued by the discipline,” says Mapelli. “My spinal cord rotation in medical school solidified the decision.”
“I had a keen interest in anatomy and found neuroscience and neurology fascinating, combined with my passion for sports, it was the right fit,” says Hurlburt. “PM&R is like steering the ship and working with many specialists to achieve a common goal, I thrive on the team approach.”
Some of the diagnoses and populations commonly encountered by hospitalized physiatrists include spinal cord injury, brain injury (traumatic and non-traumatic), stroke, multiple sclerosis, poliomyelitis, burn care, and rehabilitation musculoskeletal and pediatric. Inpatient physiatrists are often trained using collaborative team skills and work with social workers and other allied health therapists (eg, physical, occupational, and speech) to manage these issues.
Ambulatory physiatrists manage non-surgical conditions including orthopedic injuries, spinal pain and dysfunction, occupational injuries and overuse syndromes, spasticity management, and chronic pain.
Hurlburt and Mapelli agree that the most intriguing part of PM&R is helping people thrive and optimize their features.
An important part of the residency is the community programs created by Seetharama. Residents will volunteer at clinics in downtown Hartford serving the homeless and clinics serving the disability community in New Horizons. Residents will also have the opportunity to participate in global health programs.
“I’m thrilled to be a part of this robust program, now that it’s finally here it’s been great and I can’t wait to see what the next four years have in store for us,” says Hurlburt.
“It’s been an amazing experience so far, very long hours and days and the workload is an adjustment, but I’m learning so much,” says Mapelli.
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