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UNM opens residency program for rehab doctors

UNM’s Division of Physical Medicine Rehabilitation chief W. Evan Rivers, M.D., says work on establishing a new residency program has been going on for about two years. (Courtesy of UNM Health Sciences)

The University of New Mexico’s Division of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation was established a few years ago to enhance recovery for patients who have received lifesaving stroke and trauma treatment at UNM Hospital.

Now, the division is taking a major step forward with the establishment of a new residency program. “We’ve been working on this for about two years,” said division chief W. Evan Rivers, MD, associate professor in the Department of Neurology. Ten candidates for the four-year residency have been selected from a pool of 90 applicants.

“The Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education gave us our accreditation in January,” Rivers said. “We were able to start recruiting people in mid-February for the match that happened in March.”

Come July 1, five newly graduated medical students will start their internship year, followed by three years of residency, Rivers said. At the same time, a second cohort of five who have already completed their internships elsewhere will commence their three-year residency stint.

“The group includes some really stellar people,” Rivers said. “They are going to be leaders in the rehabilitation field.”

The new residency program director is Lawrence Horn, MD, a prominent expert in traumatic brain injury who previously led the PM&R department at the Wayne State University School of Medicine, Rivers said.

The field of physical medicine and rehabilitation dates back to the 20th century polio epidemic, when it was recognized that patients who survived the viral infection had long-term medical and rehabilitative needs, Rivers said.

Later, the scope of care grew to include people recovering from the after-effects of stroke, trauma, orthopedic injury and neuroinflammatory conditions. “We started getting really involved in the early, but not acute, care of these patients,” Rivers said.

Today, PM&R specialists work in both acute care inpatient rehab hospitals and in outpatient settings alongside physical and occupational therapists and speech and language pathologists. “We can help people become considerably more independent over the long term,” Rivers said.

PM&R physicians are also skilled in pain management and they also perform a variety of diagnostic and perioperative procedures, including electromyography, lidocaine and steroid injections and percutaneous spine stimulator implantation.

The creation of UNM’s PM&R program was an outgrowth of the UNM Health System’s investment in 2017 in the Lovelace UNM Rehabilitation Hospital, Rivers said. At the time, UNM had no in-house capacity to provide follow-up care to patients emerging from its trauma, neurosurgery and neurology services.

The unique partnership between UNM and Lovelace Health System centered around a Lovelace-owned 62-bed acute inpatient rehab facility in Albuquerque’s Martineztown neighborhood. It also encompassed existing Lovelace outpatient rehabilitation clinics in the metro area.

Meanwhile, the division’s ranks have grown to include faculty from the departments of Neurosurgery, Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences, Pediatrics and Orthopaedics, as well as colleagues at the Raymond G. Murphy Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Rivers said.

And, he said, the advent of the residency program could eventually lead to the division being promoted to departmental status within the School of Medicine.