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Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation adds new programs

Jul. 26, 2012, 10:35 AM

Officially established on April 1, Vanderbilt’s new Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (PM&R) has welcomed its first new faculty recruit and is establishing clinical and research programs.

PM&R physicians, often called physiatrists, are experts in nerve, muscle, bone and brain function who work to decrease pain and restore function without surgery. They treat a range of conditions, from back pain and arthritis to spinal cord injury and multiple sclerosis.

“In Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, the priority is returning patients to their optimal level of functioning, both physically and mentally,” said Walter Frontera, M.D., Ph.D., chair of the department.

“The number of people needing rehabilitation is increasing globally. One reason is that people with acute illness or injury survive because of advances in modern medicine, and another is that the population is aging and living longer. The World Health Organization says 15 percent of the population lives with disability, but it is probably more than that.”

PM&R will primarily reside in Stallworth Rehabilitation Hospital, which is undergoing renovations, and is currently developing four areas: an administrative structure and budget, clinical programs, a residency program and a research agenda.

The department has eight faculty members, including the first outside recruit, Juan Cabrera, M.D., assistant professor of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.

Juan Cabrera, M.D.

Cabrera comes from the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio, where he was medical director of the Polytrauma Network Site Clinic at South Texas Veterans Health Care System. The outpatient clinic cared for veterans in various stages of rehabilitation following traumatic brain injury, stroke, amputation, burn and multiple orthopaedic injuries.

Board certified in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, Cabrera earned his medical degree from the University of South Alabama College of Medicine.

Cabrera’s first responsibility will be to help staff the inpatient service, and then develop a consult service with a visible presence at Vanderbilt University Hospital.

“I hope to show how physiatry can fit in the spectrum of care and help patients get that right level of care and recover faster,” Cabrera said. “There will be a learning curve with the new department, but I look forward to developing relationships with all of the talented providers here at Vanderbilt and demonstrating what we can do to help their service and their patients.”

Cabrera’s wife, Alison Cabrera, M.D., also joins Vanderbilt as a Sports Medicine/Shoulder fellow with the Department of Orthopaedics. It was a stroke of serendipity that, as she applied, Vanderbilt was establishing a department in her husband’s specialty.

“We both are excited about working at such a prestigious academic center with busy, challenging caseloads. Vanderbilt is the perfect fit for both of us. It’s an honor to work under Dr. Frontera, and I am excited to see the department grow,” Cabrera said.

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