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Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation

A Bit of History

Young soldier (WW-2) receiving physical therapy from a nurseThe field of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation emerged from the need to care and heal many of the wounded returning from the two World Wars.

In the 1930's the continued need for physical medicine was recognized and fostered by many physicians from Europe and Scandinavia, where hydrotherapy or spa therapy enjoyed greater respectability. In 1938, The Society for Physical Therapy Physicians was founded.

During World War II, the need for healing grew and the Baruch Committee was formed by a noted philanthropist, Bernard Baruch. This committee, chaired by Ray Lyman Wilbur, MD, was to study physical medicine, developing ways to expand the field, and contributing maximally to the care of injured soldiers and sailors.

In 1945--a section on Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation was established in the American Medical Association. By February 1947, the requirements for a specialty board were met, and the American Board of Physical Medicine (ABPM) was recognized by the American Medical Association, Advisory Council for Medical Specialties.

During World War II there were physicians practicing physical therapy, and those who dealt mainly with rehabilitation. The rehabilitation concept and its team approach to care included corrective therapists, occupational therapists, vocational education specialists, and recreation personnel organized under the team physiatrist. The American Board of Medical Specialties saw no division between physical medicine and rehabilitation, and hence both factions were included in the ABPM. The competition between the physical medicine factions and those championing rehabilitation continued. In 1949, the ABPM, in response to guidance from the Advisory Board of Medical Specialties, became the American Board of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (ABPM&R), which it remains to this day.

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