MSU launches rehab division


The rehabilitative research and educational collaboration between a Grand Rapids-based medical school and rehabilitation hospital kicks off with the launch of a new division offered as an elective for medical students and residents.

Michigan State University College of Human Medicine announced Nov. 21 the launch of the Division of Rehabilitation Medicine that will expose medical students and residents to educational and research opportunities in rehabilitative care.

Dr. Marsha D. Rappley, dean of the medical school, said the division will focus on research and educational opportunities for students, and the relationship with Mary Free Bed will grant a lot of opportunities.

“It is a wonderful partnership for us to have, with their capacity around all of the cutting-edge things in rehab,” said Rappley. “Medical students, residents and others who want to study, for example, biomedical engineering, aspects of rehabilitation, and social issues with rehabilitation medicine — that relationship with Mary Free Bed will give us a lot of opportunities for both education and research.”

The new division is not required for medical students or residents at the MSU med school; Rappley said it is considered an elective for students, who can rotate through it as a clinical experience.

The rehabilitation medicine elective is not likely to be available every month, but the college will work in advance with students who express an interest in the specialty.

“Generally how it works is, it is ready for students when they plan several months ahead of time,” said Rappley. “It is really not offered like other college courses.”

A rehabilitation physician focuses on treating injuries or illnesses affecting motor skills with a goal of enhancing performance through developing a comprehensive program, according to the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. Combining the different aspects of medicine into a management plan for those recovering from long-term or catastrophic illness will expose students to the complexity of needs involved for both patients and families, according to Rappley.

“It is a really great experience for students and for residents to learn firsthand from families what works for them in creating these plans at home, making that transition from the hospital to the home,” said Rappley. “Families are very, very intricate to the treatment plan. It’s, of course, the person who is sick or injured, but it is equally important for the family members who are often responsible for helping maintain that treatment plan.”

Dr. John F. Butzer, director of the Center for Research & Innovation at Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital, was selected to lead the new division as the inaugural director. The faculty will be comprised of physicians with a physical medicine and rehabilitation specialty.

“Exposing medical students to the nuances of rehabilitative care will enhance their training and perhaps even inspire them to pursue a career in physiatry,” said Buzter in a written statement. “This division is another example of the power of collaboration, and I’m grateful Dean Rappley selected me to lead it.”

Butzer previously served as chief medical officer at Mary Free Bed for 29 years before stepping into his new role earlier this year at the Center for Research & Innovation. With an extensive knowledge in the field, Rappley said Butzer’s formal role with the college will be beneficial.

“He knows how the system works in terms of opportunities for students and research, and he knows all the people involved,” said Rappley. “He has long been active with Michigan State University and teaching the students who were interested in rehab. Now he can teach and have this as a formal role, helping us to design the teaching aspect of it and also linking up to research to discover new ways to assist in rehabilitation.”

The Association of Academic Physiatrists, an organization of physical medicine and rehabilitation physicians, reported while some areas of the country have an “adequate supply” of physiatrists, other areas “continue to have a shortage of rehabilitation services and/or physiatrists,” and residency programs continue to experience a shortage of academic physiatrists.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects job growth of 36 percent between 2012 and 2022 for physical therapists, which is a related discipline in the field of physical medicine. The Bureau also notes an estimated job outlook for physicians and surgeons outpacing the average growth at 18 percent.

As a critical component of care, Rappley said the rehabilitation medicine program is a recognition of a “growing need for specialized education in this area” made possible due to the affiliation with Mary Free Bed.

Mary Free Bed and MSU’s College of Human Medicine announced their formal collaboration in May to launch a rehabilitative research and educational initiative at the rehabilitation hospital. The partnership was based on a framework including physicians and clinicians participating with MSU in academic research, faculty appointments at the College of Human Medicine, and having medical students take part in clinical rotations at the hospital.

Mary Free Bed has 80 inpatient beds, outpatient programs, and home-based and specialty services, including orthotics, driver rehabilitation, neuromuscular re-education and prosthetics.

The launch of the medical school’s new rehabilitation division and partnership with Mary Free Bed is another example of the wonderful medical care available in the Greater Grand Rapids community, according to Rappley.

“The partnership that has been possible for Michigan State with Spectrum Health, Mercy Health Saint Mary’s and Mary Free Bed, and through research at Van Andel Institute, is just creating opportunities for all of us to do things that weren’t possible before we joined this partnership,” said Rappley. “I really deeply appreciate it.”

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