I am honored to begin my term as your president and to deliver my first ‘Message from the President.’ The Association is riding high as we celebrated our 50th Anniversary at the 2017 Annual Meeting in Las Vegas with Gerard Francisco, MD, my close friend and colleague, at the helm. With record Annual Meeting attendance of 1,241 and record membership of over 1,600 and climbing, I’m pleased to share with you that the State of the Association is strong! The mission of the AAP is ‘Creating the future of academic physiatry through mentorship, leadership, and discovery.’ I am pleased to devote my first message to ‘mentorship.’
Thirty years ago, I was a second year student at NJ Medical School. That year, my school appointed a new chairman for an obscure department called ‘PM&R.’ The department was of no consequence to me except for the fact that the chairman, someone named Joel DeLisa, MD, was promised mandatory two week rotations for all seniors. We already had many ‘required’ senior year rotations and were not happy!
I attended a protest meeting where Dr. DeLisa was summoned to answer for his crimes against the class of 1990. Little did I know that Dr. DeLisa was the editor-in-chief of the field’s premier text book and a future inductee of the National Academy of Medicine (NAM). I actually don’t recall much of what Dr. DeLisa said except, ‘PM&R is therapeutic neurology and nonsurgical orthopedics.’ As a biomedical engineer who was intrigued by the engineering marvel of the human nervous and musculoskeletal systems, I was hooked. Of course, our specialty is far more than these, but these initial words from Dr. DeLisa began my journey into this wonderful specialty of ours called ‘PM&R.’
I was privileged to match with Dr. DeLisa’s program. During my training, Steve Kirshblum, MD, the 2017 recipient of the AAP Distinguished Academician Award, also had a profound impact on my clinical, academic, and administrative training. During my senior year, I was honored to serve as co-chief residents with Gerard Francisco, MD and the late Scott Nader, DO. In 1994, Dr. DeLisa ‘required’ the three of us to attend our first AAP meeting in Albuquerque, NM, and we started another journey. This time, it was with an Association that raised us to become academicians with a charge to ‘change the world.’
I was privileged to be a member of the very first class of the Rehabilitation Medicine Scientist Training Program (RMSTP), a NIH funded program formulated by the early thought leaders of the AAP to train young physiatrists to become independent investigators. Now led by Michael Boninger, MD and John Whyte, MD, PhD, both past presidents and NAM members, the RMSTP continues to have a profound impact on the scientific capacity of our field. It was also through the AAP that I met Gary Clark, MD, AAP President at the time, who eventually became my chair at Case Western Reserve University (Case). My involvement in the AAP deepened during his presidency as he continued to mentor me as a faculty member and leader. Finally, there was Walter Frontera, MD, PhD, a NAM member, who fielded many questions as I transitioned to chair of PM&R at Case.
Thank you for being a member of our family. None of us individually is that smart or that able. My prayer is that you, too, would experience the mentorship that I’ve received through Dr. DeLisa and the many giants in our field through the AAP. We need each other to advance the cause of academic physiatry with the ultimate goal of serving our community and our global society. I look forward to working with you as we seek to change our world through mentorship, leadership and discovery in PM&R.