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Also known as a rehabilitation doctor, a physiatrist is a type of physician who treats individuals suffering from both minor and serious physical injuries. Like other medical doctors, a physiatrist generally completes four years of medical school, three years of residency, and a one year internship. The core of a physiatrist's training focuses primarily on nerve, muscle, and bone injuries as well as illnesses that can affect these areas. In addition, he or she also learns how to provide pain relief for these types of conditions without resorting to surgical procedures.
Although they are specifically trained in physical rehabilitation and have the authority to write prescriptions, physiatrists do not perform surgeries. In fact, most view surgery as a last resort, and recommend it only to those patients who have exhausted all other options. Instead, physiatrists focus on preventative care and rehabilitation, often using assistive devices such as braces and artificial limbs, as well as less traditional methods such as electrotherapy, massage, and heat therapy.
Physiatrists treat a variety of patients, from those suffering from serious health conditions like cancer to individuals who have suffered minor injuries in sports-related or automobile accidents. Most physiatrists treat a broad range of conditions; however, many others focus on specific areas such as sports medicine, brain injuries, or pediatric physiatry. In addition, while many physiatrists choose to practice on their own, they may also treat patients in settings such as hospitals, rehabilitation centers, and retirement homes.
Regardless of the type of practice, the patient's age, or the extent of the patient's pain, it is the responsibility of the physiatrist to provide personalized recovery options to all individuals under his or her care. To do this, the physiatrist creates a personalized treatment plan for each patient. He or she will suggest therapeutic treatments, as well as specific lifestyle changes that can help prevent future injuries.
Rather than limiting treatment to one specific area, a physiatrist focuses on treating the person as a whole. Oftentimes, this requires not just medical treatment, but also vocational, emotional, and social counseling. Unlike most short-term medical treatments, a physiatrist's treatment plan usually requires lifelong changes. In many cases, the patient's treatment plan will require treatment from other physicians or social workers, psychologists, and counselors. Although the exact plan for treatment is different for each patient, the goal of a physiatrist remains the same: to relieve the patient's pain and help improve the quality of his or her life through the use of non-surgical methods.