Approaches for Academic Advancement Within Pediatric Rehabilitation Medicine

Physicians in the field should tout an array of accomplishments to achieve well-deserved recognition

Advancing the field of pediatric rehabilitation medicine (PRM) is advantageous for the health and function of children with disabilities. One way to advance the field is through academic recognition and promotion of PRM physicians, two-thirds of whom work or are affiliated with an academic medical center. But there’s a hitch.

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“We recognize other specialists who are leaders in their fields, such as neurologists, largely because they have published journal articles or book chapters. But PRM physicians tend to be on the ground, taking care of kids and teaching trainees,” says Lainie Holman, MD, MFA, Chair of Pediatric Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Cleveland Clinic Children’s Hospital for Rehabilitation. “We need to consider what an academic career in rehabilitation medicine looks like.”

Dr. Holman and peers from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Baylor College of Medicine and Dell Medical School at the University of Texas at Austin published an invited paper in the Journal of Pediatric Rehabilitation Medicine to share approaches for PRM faculty members seeking a pathway to advancement.

Moving beyond research publications

Academic advancement is connected to excellence, which is frequently demonstrated by scholarship. However, faculty often assume that scholarship is narrowly defined as publications based on research, says Dr. Holman.

“Our specialty is young, and it hasn’t historically been very prolific in terms of research,” she says. “We don’t have a lot of MDs and PhDs doing clinical research – and even fewer conducting translational or bench research. And that can seem ‘unserious’ in academic medicine.”

Dr. Holman and her peers co-authored the journal article based on conversations about how PRM physicians can gain recognition for their work.

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“We wanted to address how rehab physicians can represent the careers they have and the work they do in a way that is identifiable to other people in academic medicine and to their supervisors,” she says. “We do things that matter in academics, and we often discount them.”

Four ways to plug accomplishments

Dr. Holman encourages PRM physicians to document and promote their accomplishments, offering the following advice:

Make a teaching portfolio. Include work with students, residents and fellows, as well as their evaluations of you. The portfolio may also list development of educational materials and modules, management of teaching rounds, participation on thesis committees and other related achievements.

Highlight clinical excellence. Markers of excellence can include leading a clinical program, performing above the expected percentile for clinical productivity, receiving awards for clinical expertise or innovations and serving as a role model for other clinicians. Consider adding patient evaluations within the list.

Broaden your thinking about publications. There are other options for scholarly articles beyond those presenting research studies. “You can promote topics you are passionate about and write opinion pieces,” says Dr. Holman. For instance, she co-authored a journal article on considering students with disabilities when re-opening schools during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Create an advocacy portfolio. “Let the world know this is an important part of your career, and show how you advocate for people with disabilities,” says Dr. Holman. List involvement in regional or national advocacy organizations, elected positions within those organizations, lobbying efforts with local, state and national politicians, and testimony to legislative bodies.

Focusing on the greater good

While pursuing academic excellence helps PRM physicians achieve personal and professional goals, there’s a broader benefit to the field and the patients it serves.

“Trying to make the world better for all people with disabilities is the ultimate goal,” says Dr. Holman. “And driving the field toward academic excellence moves us closer to that goal.”