Founding the First PM&R Interest Group at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine

by Stanley Guillaume, Anne Kuwabara, & Samiran Bhattacharya

Stanley Guillaume (left), Charles Odonkor (middle) and Anne Kuwabara (right) at the the PM&R Happy Hour


At the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine (JHUSOM), the field of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation (PM&R) seldom appears on the radar of medical students exploring specialties. If you survey the group of students that comprise the medical school, “Have you considered applying into PM&R?” you will often be surprised by the number of people who respond, “What is PM&R?” Unsurprisingly, with such obscurity there is a notable paucity in the number of students who apply into PM&R from JHUSOM. We believe that a lack of early exposure to the field of PM&R is one of the prime reasons so few students consider the field, let alone apply into it. In the past, PM&R was a required elective for medical students during their fourth year.

This elective garnered very little popularity as fourth-year students were not enthused with a mandatory elective after the majority had already decided on a specialty (or in some cases had already matched into a program).

Currently, PM&R is no longer a part of the required rotational curriculum at JHUSOM, but rather an optional elective. We are confident that the field has a great wealth of education to share to all medical students. Furthermore, we feel that with earlier exposure many medical students will appreciate PM&R to a much greater degree and revere its focus on the patient beyond a medical condition, the vast opportunities for procedures, and an emphasis on longitudinal patient care. This was our call to action! This year, we have embraced the challenge of turning the tides.


Stanley Guillaume, Hopkins PMR Interest Group Co-President

a. Stanley Guillaume:

Medicine came onto my radar in 2010, after an earthquake destroyed Port-au-Prince, Haiti, where I grew up in my early years and my extended family lives. In a country where safety is ignored and preventable injuries abound due to lack of policy implementation, I really became interested in getting involved with medicine related to injuries, primarily to the musculoskeletal system. As a 3rd year student on rotations, I couldn’t find a rotation that tailored to those interests until I met Dr. Charles Odonkor, a Johns Hopkins senior resident in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (PM&R), who also happens to be the Chair of the Association of Academic Physiatrists (AAP) Resident Fellow Council. PM&R was a mystery to me until I finally did an elective rotation in March 2016, and finally I felt at home! Working with patients with debilitating injuries and traumatic brain injuries truly excited me most, and the longitudinal relationships I was able to build with them thrilled me even more. The result: currently pursuing my Masters in Public Health year with research in Injury Prevention and Policy Implementation. I am excited for this group, because I discovered this field very late in my medical school training, and that should not be the case for any medical student. Together with co-officers Samiran and Anne, we have big plans set for the future of this group!

Samiran Bhattacharya, Hopkins PMR Interest Group Vice-President

b. Samiran Bhattacharya:

I believe helping improve a patient’s quality of life is one of the most meaningful things a physician can do. I originally pursued a career in medicine because I wanted to form strong therapeutic relationships with my patients, and to help my patients discover and tap into their hidden strengths. After graduating from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, I began an emergency medicine residency at the University of Maryland. I loved my co-residents and faculty mentors, however after completing my intern year I felt that my values and aspirations aligned more closely with the field of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. I was lucky to meet with Dr. Pablo Celnik, Director of PM&R at Johns Hopkins, and began working as his research coordinator in the human brain physiology and stimulation lab. I was also fortunate to meet Anne Kuwabara through a mutual friend, and share the same dream of starting a PM&R interest group at Johns Hopkins. I hope to share the rewarding and exciting opportunities prevalent in PM&R with other medical students, and look forward to sharpening my skills in medical education while teaching and mentoring.

Anne Kuwabara, Hopkins PMR Interest Group Co-President

c. Anne Kuwabara:

My initial interest in the field began with the rehabilitation of my grandfather, after sustaining a spinal cord injury, and my mother, after cancer treatment. During college, I studied to become a cancer exercise trainer. It was rewarding to help others visualize goals, overcome challenges and cultivate the mental and physical strength to improve their quality of life. Through my medical school education, I discovered that PM&R aligned with my mission and values. During my sub-internship, Dr. Charles Odonkor was fortuitously the resident on service. Serving as the Resident Fellow Council Chair of the Association of Academic Physiatrists (AAP), Charles was motivated and prepared to engage medical students toward the field. We discussed the need for a PM&R interest group at Hopkins to raise more awareness about this field at our institution. As PM&R has been such a meaningful and rewarding experience to me, I was overjoyed by the opportunity to collaborate with Charles to form the first PM&R interest group at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine to recruit other medical students and give the field the recognition it deserves.


Together, we made this goal a reality. Our first meeting was in July 2016. We conceptualized our mission statement, logo, and motto to symbolize the spirit of the field and our organization. We discussed methods to effectively spread awareness of our group at school and attain new and veteran student interest. With a strong leadership team and the support of the Johns Hopkins PM&R Department, the Johns Hopkins Medical Student Senate and AAP, we were able to make our organization a key fixture of the student body. We continue to work towards our mission through weekly leadership meetings, conference calls and a constantly growing bank of educational and fun opportunities for the school of medicine.


PMR Student Interest Group at the Student fair on Day 1 of Medical School

a. New Student Group Fair

On August 11th, we began fulfilling our mission during the Incoming Student’s Fair for the first-year students. Alongside our banner, we set up a table with information about our group, the Johns Hopkins PM&R Department, and the AAP regarding research and clinical opportunities. We gauged interest by having students sign up to receive our group e-mails and express their interest in our future events using an online survey tool. We were thrilled to have over 30 students sign up in less than an hour. We also distributed Johns Hopkins PM&R Department bags and protein bars to symbolize our commitment to health and well-being (and also to capitalize on a universal appeal to food and free merchandise).

Through this event, we increased exposure towards new students right from Day 1 of medical school, when most have not yet differentiated into a specific field. Many students reported that our table was the most prominent at the event and appeared well-established. However before this event, PM&R was rarely ever brought to students’ attention. Some students were not even aware of the field upon graduation from Hopkins. With the help of our committed leadership, residents, and faculty, we are shifting this paradigm.

Hopkins PM&R Interest group at the downtown adaptive sailing loading dock

b. Adaptive Sailing

With the support of Dr. Albert Recio at Kennedy Krieger Institute and Ms. Lynn Handy at the Downtown Sailing Center, we hosted an adaptive sailing experience for a group of interested students on September 10th, 2016. This event doubled as a volunteer training opportunity so students could later return to help patients with disabilities sail freely and independently using specially adapted boats. Ms. Handy began with an introduction about the program and how to set up and navigate the dinghies. The students then had hands on experience setting up and sailing in the dinghies in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. Our students were able to experience the same enjoyment we try to share with our patients as they sail in the Patapsco River, deterring focus from their disabilities.

Students enjoy time on the water learning about the benefits of adaptive sailing for patients

After the event, we held a debriefing session at a nearby restaurant. Veteran students exclaimed, “No other group has done something like this!” New students also interjected that “this was such an amazing event!” We seek to continue receiving this powerful feedback by proactively increasing our presence on campus.

c. Future Events

During the upcoming year, we will offer an engaging and comprehensive PM&R immersion. On September 23rd, 2016 we hosted a happy hour to allow students connect with faculty and residents in the department.

Dr. Pablo Celnik welcomes medical students to the first social event of the year
A cross-section of medical students socializing and learning about Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation

On November 12th, 2016 we will put on a workshop on hippotherapy at the Maryland Therapeutic Riding Center, catering towards patients suffering from cerebral palsy. On January 14th, 2017 we are hosting a multi-school PM&R Fair that will showcase the many aspects of the field and highlights of the department through interactive demonstrations, lectures, and small group discussions. During our events, we plan to recruit younger students for leadership positions so we can have a seamless transition and maintain sustainability of our organization for the future.


We are grateful to have the support and guidance from Dr. Pablo Celnik, Dr. Robert Mayer, Dr. Marlis Gonzalez-Fernandez, Dr. Albert Recio, Dr. Levan Atanelov, Dr. Dorianne Feldman and Dr. Charles A. Odonkor, for helping to make our dream a reality. We look forward to sharing our passion and inspiring future generations of physiatrists at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.