Applying to Rehabilitation Medicine

Rehabilitation medicine is a holistic specialty in which you spend a great deal of time with patients. There are many aspects of care that rehabilitation medicine provides and these doctors are involved at every step of a patient’s journey from being in hospital to out in the community.

What is Rehabilitation Medicine? 

Rehabilitation medicine is a small and often overlooked specialty that often doesn’t receive the recognition it truly deserves. This specialty gives you the opportunity to work in a fantastic diverse team and get to know your colleagues and patients really well.  

Rehabilitation medicine has a large basis in neurological rehabilitation (such as stroke, Multiple Sclerosis, Guillain-Barré, traumatic brain injury) but we are also involved in spinal injuries, amputee medicine and Musculoskeletal medicine (MSK).

It is a holistic speciality focused on quality of life and improving the independence and function of our patients. Doctors in this specialty are very caring and work well in a team setting. They often take the lead where needed as goal planning and family meetings are an important aspect of the role and can sometimes be quite complex and challenging. 

What do you do as a rehabilitation medicine doctor?

Rehabilitation medicine doctors work closely with family members and other services as a lot of our patients have cognitive impairment.

Our patients often have general medical needs we look after alongside their specialist rehabilitation needs such as spasticity, behavioural issues or low awareness state. We get involved with our patients any time from their initial stay in ICU right through to community services.

We are working hard to develop other services as well such as hyperacute rehabilitation, trauma rehabilitation and now, links with post-COVID rehab. There is also the opportunity to become competent in procedures such as botulinum injections for spasticity or joint injections, although this is not always mandatory.

How to build your portfolio

Overall rehabilitation has quite favourable competition ratios. We understand, given it’s such a small speciality that most people aren’t exposed to in medical school or as junior doctors, that you may have little to no experience in rehab medicine. Any evidence of knowledge, having a general understanding and enthusiasm for the specialty, is really positive and having done taster days is even better. It’s quite obvious in specialty applications those who really understand and appreciate the specialty, and being one of these candidates will definitely make you stand out at interview. 

Taster days
Rehabilitation consultants and trainees are very keen to promote the specialty and increase awareness of its importance, therefore people will normally be very willing and accommodating to anyone who wishes to find out more about the specialty. Arranging a taster day in any of the areas shouldn’t be difficult and would give a great idea of what a rehabilitation consultant’s day looks like. 

We value such things as good leadership skills and having a drive to improve (e.g. Quality Improvement Projects) so evidence of this, even if it’s not rehabilitation based, looks good. We don’t expect you to have attended any rehabilitation based courses or conferences but if you have, this looks particularly good. Likewise, having your membership exams by the time of application is not mandatory but is good evidence of hard work and organisational skills.

The BSRM (British Society of Rehabilitation Medicine) website is the best place to go to look at upcoming events you might be interested in and also give you an idea of what the specialty is doing at the moment. In other countries, rehabilitation medicine goes by physical medicine and rehabilitation so it is worth searching this term too when looking into the specialty. 

The application process

Currently, there are several different routes to rehabilitation medicine. Most people come from Internal Medicine Training (IMT, which was the old CMT) and are eligible once they have obtained their MRCP membership as well as a successful ARCP. Currently, rehabilitation medicine is one of the few specialties where you only have to complete 2, not 3, years of IMT prior to starting.

You can also apply from GP, Surgical or Psychiatry core training routes and need to obtain the relevant membership exams for eligibility. Applications go through the oriel system and any information such as deadlines and post numbers are published on the specialty recruitment website.  

The training pathway

The training for rehabilitation medicine is currently 4 years long and during that time you gain experience in the 4 main areas (neurology, spinal injury, amputee, MSK). The curriculum is also currently being updated to acknowledge emerging avenues such as trauma and hyperacute rehab. Generally, the core curriculum can be adequately covered in the first few years of training which then gives you more opportunity to pursue an area you are particularly interested in. Job options on completion of training are also generally quite favourable.

Rehabilitation medicine pathway

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By Dr Alex Ward

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