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Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation was not my first choice of a medical specialty.

Actually, being a Veterinarian was my initial thoughts in high school, however that quickly dissipated during my college years as I realized that just because I love having pets, did not mean that I wanted to care for sick animals.

As I solidified my plans to become a physician for humans, my thoughts then moved towards Internal Medicine and eventually Gastroenterology as a subspecialty. However in medical school, I was told by many of my mentors/faculty that GI would be a difficult subspecialty to enter at the time since there was already too many GI specialists and there would be few jobs. Some may consider this bad advice now, as with all of the efforts towards the prevention of Colon cancer, and the fact that it is one of the few cancers that are truly preventable with screening, routine colonoscopies have become a route for early retirement for many a GI specialist!

In my mind, the above advice was the best advice I was ever given. I still entered an Internal Medicine Residency at North Carolina Baptist Hospital (now Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center), but my ultimate area of specialization was unclear. PMR was not on my radar at this time, as my medical school (University of South Florida) did not have a PMR program back then. During my IM PGY-2 year, I had the opportunity to start the year on a Rheumatology/Rehabilitation service as the senior resident with my attending, a young rheumatologist, Dr. Elliot Semble. Dr. Semble was somewhat new to inpatient rehabilitation and really depended much on his therapists to drive the rehabilitation aspect of his practice. I was very intrigued, and took to the library, found a textbook written by Asa Ruskin, MD, a NYC PMR physician, that gave an overview of PMR. I never had the chance to meet Dr. Ruskin, as he died that same year, an untimely death at the age of 60 from a ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm. If I had the chance to meet him, I would have thanked him for changing my life and my future medical career. Shortly after reading his book, I had detailed discussions with colleagues and mentors, and made the decision to switch from IM to PMR. I had found my future, in a specialty that would allow me to combine my interests in Internal Medicine/primary care, Neurology, Rheumatology, and in fact even Gastroenterology (see below).

My journey next took me to University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (now Rutgers Medical School) and Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation for my three years of PMR. I knew from day one that I made the correct decision in uprooting my wife and I, and moving back up north (easy for both of us since we were both transplanted northerners). Several key things happened in residency including finding a love for caring for patients with spinal cord injury (and therefore my connection back to Gastroenterology and bowel dysfunction), the birth of our first child, and career wise, a strong desire to continue my medical career in Academics, and just as important, to get back down South. Charlotte Institute of Rehabilitation (now Carolinas Rehabilitation) was early in the process of developing a residency in PMR and I was privileged to enter my first and only job post-residency here in Charlotte. The years since, have been very good to me and my family. I had the opportunity to be the Residency Program Director for 15 years, become Chair of the Department of PMR at CMC and Medical Director of Carolinas Rehabilitation since 2005, and since 2013 Chief Medical Officer for our Rehabilitation facilities. In addition, my work here in Charlotte has allowed me to be very active nationally with numerous organizations including the AAPMR, AAP, ABPMR, ACGME/RRC, ASIA, and ASCIP, just to name a few.

Over the years I have worked with numerous colleagues in Charlotte, who I would consider to be some of the best and brightest clinicians/researchers/therapists in our field. We have graduated many PMR residents since our residency’s inception in 1991, who have carried the torch of CR to their respective practices across the nation, and who have gone on to make us very proud of the work we do here in Charlotte. Most recently the teamwork and support shared by our faculty and residents during the ongoing Covid-19 crisis, has cemented my belief that our PMR department and residency is one of the best in the nation, and going forward will be even stronger and more prepared for anything that the future brings our way.

We would look forward to having you (and your family) join us as well, in your own journey and early part of your medical career so that you can continue to help us keep our torch lit with excellence in patient care, education, and discovery.

Bill Bockenek
Chairman, Dept. of PM&R