Pablo Celnik, MD is the Department Chair of PM&R at Johns Hopkins University, as well as a Professor of PM&R, Neurology and Neuroscience. He also serves as the Physiatrist-in-Chief at Johns Hopkins Hospital and Director of the Human Brain Physiology and Stimulation Laboratory. Discover Pablo’s path to leadership – in his words.
I was born and raised in Buenos Aires, Argentina. In school, I really enjoyed science and was fascinated with neuroscience. Given that I had a strong interest on applying science and discovery to the service of society, I decided to pursue medicine. I went on to medical school in Argentina and favored neurology. During my training in neurology, I really enjoyed following my patients through their recovery process and was very puzzled to understand why different patients with similar strokes have very different recovery curves. In this way, I became very interested on neuro-plasticity and recovery processes following stroke. Following my neurology residency, I applied and was awarded a fellowship in neurological rehabilitation at the University of Maryland. This was my first exposure to neurologists and physiatrists working together, and my first real experience with rehabilitation medicine. This clinical exposure was enlightening and I became more interested in pursuing further research to understand the basic mechanisms of neuroplasticity. I went on to work at the NIH for a year. Afterwards, I returned to Argentina (since they had funded my fellowship in the US), where I helped lead the development of its first rehabilitation hospital. Once this facility was well on its way, I decided to return to the US to do a formal residency in rehabilitation medicine at Johns Hopkins and continue expanding my research in recovery following neurological conditions. I have stayed at Hopkins ever since, and am now the department chair.
I didn’t pursue my academic career to become department chair. This happened as a consequence of my ascending and successful clinician scientist trajectory. After my residency at Hopkins, where I explored my research interests, I returned to the NIH to continue my research training under the support of the AAP’s Rehabilitation Medicine Scientist Training Program (RMSTP). At the same time, I served as faculty in the PM&R Department at Hopkins. Eventually, I started my own lab at Hopkins, successfully competed to obtain significant funding from the NIH, grew and mentored many students and postdocs, obtained prestigious awards (such as the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists & Engineers – PECASE – from President Obama) and became the Vice Chair for Research. These experiences help me develop my leadership skills; I became a referent in the neurological rehabilitation scientific community and a leader in many rehabilitation circles, including the AAP. I believe this career progression made me a successful competitor for the Chair position at Hopkins.
When I started in the rehabilitation field, I had strong interests in the science and research, but did not find many people with similar interests. First, I felt out of place; it wasn’t easy to have engaging conversations about research. This all changed when I went to my first AAP meeting. There I found a professional home, with folks with similar priorities and concerns. I immediately joined the RMSTP, which was crucial to help me develop and launch my scientific career as an independent investigator. Given all that I received, I was privileged and honored to be able to join as an advisor for the RMSTP, a role that I maintain to-date. I have also volunteered on the AAP’s Research Committee and have been a consultant to help develop research capacity in PM&R Departments across the US. This program offered by the AAP is fundamental to help departments develop their own research program as well as obtain legitimacy within their own medical schools. Currently, I am a member at large on the AAP’s Board and Chair of PM&R at Hopkins. It is not clear what the future holds for me, but I can tell you that I will continue working hard to develop the science behind rehabilitation. I believe this is a critical task that will ensure our specialty thrives and demonstrates its value in healthcare.