Matthew Haas, MD is a Chief Resident and PGY-4 at the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab/ Northwestern University. Discover Matthew's path to leadership – in his words.
Physical medicine and rehabilitation was always on Matt Haas' radar as a specialty he’d like to pursue. "I had exposure to physiatry from shadowing before medical school. My exposure up to that point was almost all outpatient, musculoskeletal-focused sports medicine. I really liked the patient population in physiatry," says Haas, now a fourth-year resident and chief resident at Northwestern University/ Shirley Ryan Ability Lab. "Our patients come to you with a specific problem, and if you can pinpoint the cause and make recommendations, they follow through and get better."
Haas pursued physiatry as a career so he could focus on his patients’ quality of life and overall function, he says. He always recalls the advice of one of his early medical school mentors, an infectious disease specialist, who told him that you’re seeing patients on their worst of days. He works to help them improve so they can engage in life and enjoy better days.
"That really keeps me grounded," shares Haas. "Physical medicine truly focuses on the whole person, and getting them back into society and life."
In the inpatient setting, the first step is helping patients overcome barriers to just getting out of the hospital, he says. "I might ask, ‘What do we have to do to get you to your next destination?’ Overall, we just need to be cognizant of what it takes for patients to be safe wherever they are. Communication is key."
In medical school, students often don’t learn much about how to foster good patient/doctor communication, says Haas. For physiatrists, open, frank dialogue with a patient is essential. "Our patients have a lot of pride, and losing your independence is pretty awful to have to experience," he says.
One of the first patients Haas encountered at Shirley Ryan AbilityLab was a man who was in rehabilitation following a brain injury. The patient made tremendous progress with his physical medicine treatment, going from minimally conscious to being able to function well on his own, albeit with some balance and memory issues. "It was great to see how far this man was able to come in a short time. Patients like this are so inspiring to me," he says.
Haas was originally attracted to sports medicine because he played tennis growing up. He enjoys working with highly motivated patients who want to be active partners in their ongoing care. Now, he's exploring other areas of physical medicine and rehabilitation, and will soon be starting a clinical fellowship in Pediatric Rehabilitation Medicine at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. Working with children who are in rehabilitation has required him to learn new ways to communicate with my patients. "I have to figure out how to motivate them to do what we need them to do, and so much depends on their age and communications skills," he says.
Haas believes that physical medicine and rehabilitation may not be well known to today’s medical students because it isn’t always practiced in the acute care setting. More students need to be exposed to physiatry as a great career option, he says.
"Whatever medical students think it is, it’s way more than that. It can be a highly variable specialty to practice, and that may be one of the barriers to more people knowing about it," he says. Physical medicine is highly team-oriented and collaborative, and patients are an active part of their own treatment and recovery. While a patient with a spinal cord or brain injury might have a major focus on their neurological system, the physiatrist also manages that patient’s diabetes or high blood pressure too, says Haas.
"What we do in training is not as much as we do in practice. That is a strength of physiatry. There are so many things we can do for our patients, and ways we can intervene to improve their quality of life. We focus on their day-to-day life, not just a specific organ system. We are concerned with how well they can function," he says. "That’s why I see such a benefit to what we do. It’s so meaningful to hear my patients’ goals and help them achieve them. I can’t imagine anything more fulfilling."