Difference Between Physiatrist & Rheumatologist

This article looks at the different conditions that physiatrists and rheumatologists treat, as well as the different training requirements and duties related to these professions.

Comparing Physiatrists to Rheumatologists

Physiatrists and rheumatologists are medical doctors who treat different conditions and have different training requirements. Physiatrists spend more time performing medical procedures while rheumatologists typically work in medical offices or clinics.

Job Title Educational Requirements Median Salary (2017)* Job Outlook (2016-2026)**
Physiatrists Medical degree; residency $203,977 15% (physicians and surgeons)
Rheumatologists Medical degree; residency; fellowship $196,873 17% (internists, general)

Sources: *PayScale; **U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Responsibilities of Physiatrists vs. Rheumatologists

Physiatrists and rheumatologists both see patients and are responsible for performing tests or referring patients for medical tests so that they can accurately diagnose the patient's condition. Once a patient is diagnosed they determine the best way to treat the patient's condition. Rheumatologists are also responsible for teaching their patients about their condition and how to manage it. They typically use non-invasive methods of treatment, such as developing dietary plans or providing patients with injections or medication. Physiatrists treat different conditions than rheumatologists treat and physiatrists are qualified to perform a wide range of medical tests and treatments on patients, including biopsies. Physiatrists also consult with other medical professionals such as occupational therapists to ensure that their patients receive thorough treatment.


Physiatrists may also be known as Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (PM&R) doctors. The patients they treat may be affected by a number of issues ranging from brain damage to problems affecting their muscles or tendons. Like all medical doctors, physiatrists must earn a medical degree and complete a residency in their field of specialization. The residency for physiatrists lasts four years and those who wish to specialize further can pursue additional training in a number of subspecialties, such as traumatic brain injury.

Job responsibilities of a physiatrist include:

  • Evaluating patients
  • Reviewing medical files
  • Performing tests or medical procedures
  • Coordinating treatment plans with other medical professionals
  • Determining strategies to manage the patient's pain


When patients are experiencing difficulty moving due to joint pain they can be referred to a rheumatologist. Common conditions that rheumatologists treat include arthritis and gout. In order to become a rheumatologist it's necessary to earn a medical degree and complete extensive postgraduate training. This involves a residency in internal medicine followed by a fellowship in rheumatology. Those who wish to specialize further may opt to train as a pediatric rheumatologist and concentrate on treating children. Rheumatologists may work in hospitals, clinics or medical offices. They need to have good interpersonal skills because they spend a lot of time interacting with the patients they treat.

Job responsibilities of a rheumatologist include:

  • Assessing patients
  • Performing medical tests
  • Referring patients for medical tests
  • Identifying the patient's condition
  • Prescribing medication

Related Careers

If a career as a physiatrist or rheumatologist sounds appealing you may also want to use the links provided here to learn about the work that neurologists and physical therapists do. These professionals can be involved in diagnosing and treating some of the same conditions physiatrists and rheumatologists may treat and require comparable skills and training.

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