PM&R Frequently Asked Questions

While I do want to encourage med students to enter Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation (PM&R), at the same time, it's very hard to answer dozens of emails that basically ask me the same questions over and over. I generally postpone answering the email then feel guilty then end up either answering it a week or two later or forgetting about it entirely.

So I've decided to create this FAQ to address the questions I most commonly get asked. Before emailing me a question, please check out this FAQ.

Are my grades/scores good enough to match in PM&R?


Can I match in PM&R as an IMG?

Maybe not in the top programs, but yes.

What can I do to make myself a better candidate?

The best thing you can do to make yourself a stronger candidate is to do an elective at a program you are interested in. And if during that rotation, you can prove yourself to be non-annoying, you have an excellent shot at matching there.

How should I prepare for my PM&R elective?

Read PM&R Secrets.

Is PM&R a DO-friendly field?

Are you kidding me? (In case you're not, the answer is yes.)

What is a day in the life of a physiatrist like?

This question is impossible to answer, because different physiatrists may have vastly different jobs. Some do only outpatient, some only inpatient, and some do a mix of the two. Some do lots of procedures (Botox, fluoroscopic steroid injections, EMGs) and some do no procedures. So there’s really no typical “day in the life” of a physiatrist.

Is PM&R a good field if I want to have a balance of work and family?

They don’t call it Plenty of Money & Relaxation for nothing. In residency, you generally have a lighter call schedule than in fields like medicine but heavier than, say, dermatology. Since physiatrists focus on function and pain management, it’s less likely that you’ll need to rush in on the weekend or in the middle of the night to deal with an emergency. However, some physiatrists work in private practice and have very busy schedules. If you work alone, you may need to make yourself available to your patients at all times. So while physiatrists generally have good lifestyles compared to other fields, it’s no guarantee.

Can you tell me more about __________ Residency Program?

Probably not. I really only know about my own program and I’d rather not say what that is. If you want more info about a program, you can check Freida, SDN, or Scutwork. Asking a question on the PM&R board on SDN can probably give you far better answers than I can, to be honest.

Would I like PM&R?

How should I know? Do an elective and decide for yourself.


  1. This is probably obvious to you, but not to me: What kind of out-patient is appropriate for referral to PM&R? Thank you, Tricia

    1. That's a very broad question, as you can refer patients to physiatrists for pain management, EMGs, or musculoskeletal issues. I assume though that you're talking about something more on the rehab end? For example, a stroke patient?

      If you have a patient with a stroke who has residual deficits that are limiting their function in some way, this may be a good candidate for referral. For example, if they have muscle spasms or pain on their affected side, or perhaps you feel they might be able to walk better. The physiatrist may be able to recommend medications, perform injections (like Botox or cortisone), or recommend orthotics or other equipment that could optimize their functional ability. Same deal with any injury that affects function in some way. And I think any patient with an old spinal cord injury should definitely be seeing a physiatrist because they have a lot of very unique issues that can turn serious quickly if not well managed.

  2. what do you mean by being geography? thank you, Tara

  3. Do you recommend research for residencies? How important do you perceive this is?

  4. What is the difference between a physiatrist and a physical therapist?

  5. Hi Fizzy,

    Thanks for your information. I'm a 3rd med student who is looking in PM&R. How did you find the residency years were on your relationship with your partner? I'm getting married at the end of 4th year, and worry that it may be a tough 1st year of marriage!


  6. Hello,
    I am a 3rd year medical student ranked in the middle of the class (pretty much 50% percentile in my class) and am trying to understand how to increase my exposure to PM&R now that I've only just found out about it. I have the option of doing an elective in PM&R, but only after I've completed my neurology clerkship, which is at the end of my 3rd year. Is the start of 4th year too late to be exploring PM&R for the first time? Is there another way for me to get some exposure aside from shadowing?


  7. To help Dr. McFizzy, who is now MY HERO just for being funny and encouraging what I believe to be the correct pronunciation of our specialty answer some fo the anonymous questions:

    PM&R is not PT, because we are medical doctors and focus on the medical aspects of what will help someone function and hopefully feel better including meds, PT, OT and speech therapy, orthotics and prosthetics, equipment, adaptive technology, and education/attitude adjustment. We coordinate a big picture based on the medical diagnosis, and may make or help make the diagnosis too.

    And no, of course it's not too late to do your elective as a fourth year. Doing neurology first is a great idea, because some of what we do really IS sort of applied neurology and doing a good neuro exam as well as an ortho/MSK exam is key to understanding your patients and doing good work for them in PM&R, IMHO.

    And as far as marriage...I got married before medical school and found that to be much easier than dating. They have duty hour restrictions that should give you more spouse time than I ever had in residency too. My husband would laugh long and hard if anyone tried to tell him PM&R was a great "lifestyle" specialty, but then I gravitated toward inpatient work, peds, academics, and now I am getting more into neuromuscular disease. Nevertheless, we just celebrated our 40th, and I hope you get there someday as well.