Monica Rho, MD is an Assistant Professor and Residency Program Director in the Department of PM&R at Northwestern University. She also serves as the Chief of Musculoskeletal Medicine, Director of the Women's Sports Medicine Program at the Shirley Ryan AbilityLab and Head Team Physician for the US Women’s National Soccer Team. An AAP member since 2006, Monica is a graduate of the AAP’s Rehabilitation Medicine Scientist Training Program (RMSTP) and currently serves on the Program Committee. Discover her path to PM&R and leadership!
When she chose her specialty as a medical student, she just felt that physiatry was a good fit for her personality. It all started when she kept thinking of the same question as she treated patients during medical school: “I constantly wondered, ‘What would happen to these people after they left the hospital and went home?’”
While at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, where she still practices, Monica enjoyed the material in all of her rotations. However, physical medicine and rehabilitation showed her a unique opportunity to focus on her patients’ whole lives and day-to-day challenges.
“Physiatry is focused on your patient’s function and quality of life, and every patient wants to focus on those things. What we do threads through every other specialty of medicine too,” she explains. “I am able to ask my patients what they want to be able to do, and then I help them get there. When you look at a patient, and they’re not ready to go home yet and take care of themselves, you really relate to them on a personal level.”
PM&R is also a flexible specialty for physicians who want to treat different types of patients, and explore various work settings or medical challenges, says Monica.
“Physiatry gives you a variety of ways to structure your career and life,” she says. Monica cares for patients as Director of Women’s Sports Medicine, Assistant Professor of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Northwestern, as well as roles in research and curriculum development. She has also previously served as the Medical Director for Chicago’s prestigious Joffrey Ballet and the Head Team Physician for the U.S. Paralympic Men’s Soccer Team. “I love that I can wear many different hats as a physiatrist. For me, I love taking care of patients, but I don’t want to do that 100 percent of the time. The variety keeps me very engaged in my work.”
Monica’s research has included projects supported by National Institutes of Health grants, and she also enjoys teaching and developing PM&R curricula for residents and fellows at Northwestern.
“Of all my many different types of patients, the athletes on the U.S. Paralympic Men’s Soccer Team are a particularly impressive and fascinating bunch,” she shares. Her residency in PM&R was a fellowship in sports medicine, so she’s worked with professional football players, ballet dancers and others at the top of their sports – but the soccer team has made an incredible impact on her.
“These men all have to qualify for the team, and they must have either cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injury or stroke. So, these guys are elite athletes,” says Monica. A few of the soccer stars were injured during military service overseas, and one was selected for the honor of carrying the U.S. flag during the Paralympics Opening Ceremonies in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 2016. “After he left the military, he really didn’t follow up with his medical care. Joining the team has given him a resurgence, and a reason to truly pay attention to his health. We help all the players address different aspects of their health and fitness. We help them be proactive so they can take care of their bodies and be successful.”
Monica says that working with the men’s paralympic soccer team was “extra special” for her professionally as well as personally.
“It’s a role that combines my expertise as a physiatrist and a sports medicine doctor. While I was in my medical school rotation in PM&R, I was seeing people immediately after their injuries, and I was just helping them to get to the point where they could be discharged from the hospital. Now, I’m working with people at the other end of the spectrum, being elite athletes on the international stage,” she says.
“I come to work every day looking forward to working. I rarely feel grumpy about my work,” she says. “It’s important to find a field of medicine where you feel like you are making a difference in people’s lives, personally and professionally. You can work with patients who thank you for paying attention to them and their challenges, their goals. Most of all, you have to believe in what you do in your work as a physiatrist…and love it.”