From the Gazette: Lee advocates treating the whole patient, not just the injury

When your father is a surgeon and your mother is an internist, odds are that you will be a medical professional, too. The only real question is what your specialty will be. Michael Lee chose physiatry, also known as physical medicine and rehabilitation – and a very new field 30 years ago. He knew that was what he wanted to do in high school, when he had a summer job transporting patients at Oak Forest Hospital in Illinois.

From the Gazette: Lee advocates treating the whole patient, not just the injury click to enlarge Michael Y. Lee, MD, MHA

“I met this patient who was a double amputee and blind, and he was trying to learn how to walk,” Lee recalled. The patient’s efforts were so inspiring, he said, “that’s when I knew I wanted to make a difference in the lives of people like him.”

When Lee came to Chapel Hill in 1994, he was the only physiatrist on staff. Within his first three months on the job, an administrator approached Lee with a serious problem in four of the programs. The patients were lingering too long – bedridden, weak and susceptible to infections – in the trauma, total joint replacement, rehabilitation and stroke units.

Lee saw only one tangible problem: The hospital was not providing rehabilitation services to patients quickly enough. By making sure patients got the help they needed – physical therapy, pain relief medication, devices and aids, even psychological counseling – early in the treatment process, he turned the troubled units around.

“That was a big impact we made early,” he said.

Lee founded the UNC Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation 20 years ago as chair of the department. Recently he was named the Sidna Chockley Rizzo Distinguished Professor of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.

Under his leadership, the department has doubled its inpatient capacity and added multiple outpatient facilities where thousands of patients a year are treated. The faculty now includes 15 physiatrists – more than there were in the entire state 20 years ago.

Read full story in the Gazette.

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