February 23, 2017

First class of PM&R residents sets bar high for new program

The inaugural class of the Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation residency program is making a big impact on patient care and research at Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC).

The first class of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation residents are, from left, Simone Maybin, M.D., Eric Sturos, M.D., Chan Gao, M.D., Ph.D., and Ryan Castoro, D.O. (photo by Joe Howell)

The inaugural class of the Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation residency program is making a big impact on patient care and research at Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC).

Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (PM&R) physicians, also known as physiatrists, treat medical conditions stemming from either illnesses or injuries that are related to movement, pain and activities of daily living. The conditions might involve the brain, spinal cord, nerves, bones, joints, ligaments, muscles or tendons.

“Every single one of our residents is involved in research,” said Stacy Stark, D.O., residency program director and assistant professor of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. “They have presented at national meetings and they are making our program more nationally known.”

Vanderbilt established a PM&R department in 2012, gained approval from the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) for the residency program in 2014 and recruited the first class to begin in July 2015.

“We had 390 applicants for the four spots in the program the first year and 530 applicants this year for those four spots,” Stark said.

The PM&R residents started their training with a year of Internal Medicine before they began seeing patients at Vanderbilt Stallworth Rehabilitation Hospital (VSRH) in July 2016. VSRH is an 80-bed hospital that has been part of the Vanderbilt campus since 1993 operating under its own certificate of need. With the establishment of the PM&R department, the hospital became a full partner with VUMC in academics and research.

The PM&R department opened an outpatient clinic in 2014 and the Residency Program has started a consult service with VUMC.

“If you think your patient is not going to be able to return home to the same level of function, that patient would be appropriate for a PM&R consult follow-up at our clinic,” Stark said. “Our focus is function. That not only means mobility, it means medical complications from a disability that affects function. We want to get patients back to the baseline which they were at pre-illness or pre-injury.”

The residents are a diverse group. They include an orthopaedic surgeon from China with a Ph.D in regenerative medicine, a U.S. Air Force veteran who is a competitive bodybuilder, a former researcher at MD Anderson Cancer Center and a doctor with an undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering who helped design economically priced and locally produced leg braces for children in India.

Chan Gao, M.D., Ph.D., was an orthopaedic surgeon in China who decided to study abroad because he was fascinated with the regenerative aspect of the skeletal system. He learned about physiatry while working on his Ph.D. in regenerative medicine at McGill University. His research entails better understanding how improved tissue regeneration can be translated into better function.

“I’m more interested in connecting with people, seeing patients and sharing their joy for life,” he said.

Simone Maybin, M.D., who came to VUMC from the Medical University of South Carolina after graduating from the U.S. Air Force Academy and serving in the U.S. Air Force, is the first chief resident.

“While PM&R is new to Vanderbilt, it is also relatively new to the world of medicine compared to other fields,” Maybin said. “We want to educate other physicians how to use us. PM&R seemed like the perfect fit to me. Now, every step I go through reconfirms that exact feeling.”

Ryan Castoro, D.O., studied at Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences after working at MD Anderson, and said PM&R also fit in with his areas of interest.

“I chose this field because I am interested in neuro-rehabilitation, neuro-regeneration and neuroplasticity from a basic science aspect, which fits well within the principles of PM&R,” Castoro said.

Eric Sturos, M.D., said he was not fully aware of medical opportunities in PM&R until his third year at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine.

“When I found out about it, looking back at my experiences up until that point, I realized that PM&R was the perfect fit,” Sturos said.

“I enjoyed the sports medicine and musculoskeletal system training through medical school and through my own experiences. I was a mechanical engineer as an undergraduate, and I liked thinking about biomechanics.”

The residency program is the newest ACGME accredited program at VUMC in several years.

This group of residents will leave their mark at Vanderbilt through expanded services and research, Stark said.

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