Capt. Siddardth Umapathy, USA, is a doctor of osteopathic medicine at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. In an interview with MOAA, he shares why he loves his field of medicine, how joining the Army changed his life, and how he practices his philosophy of treating patients “as a whole, not a single symptom.”
Q. What is physical medicine and rehabilitation (PM&R), and what drew you to it?
A. PM&R is a pretty new specialty, only been around since the 1950s. In the grand scheme of medicine, that’s fairly new. The specialty blends a lot of the things that I love in medicine. There’s a huge overlap between neurology, pain medicine, and sports medicine, which is what really drew me to the field. I grew up playing sports, and a big portion of physical medicine is rehabilitation in sports or neurological injuries. Also, when I prescribe something or provide a treatment, I like to see a more acute or immediate change. There are only a few specialties that allow for that, typically either surgical specialties or procedural specialties, and PM&R tends to fall more on the procedural side.
Q. How did joining the Army impact your life personally?
A. I was an Indian citizen up until the summer before I joined the military, because my family used to travel back and forth between India and here every two years to see my grandparents and extended family. It was just easier for travel purposes. But if I was going to take on U.S. citizenship, I had to renounce my Indian citizenship because they don’t offer dual citizenship to someone with a foreign military affiliation. I had to pick between the two, and it wasn’t a hard choice. I kind of swung the pendulum for my family because once I got my U.S. citizenship, it was a domino effect, and they got their citizenship, too. Even before my U.S. citizenship, I would say that this is still the best country in the world, so not much from a mindset point has changed. It was just more of, let’s make it official.
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Q. From a doctor’s perspective, what unique opportunities does Walter Reed offer to explore PM&R specializations?
A. A huge population in our line of duty is amputees. On Mondays, we have a clinic dedicated to the amputee population where we see them with physical therapists, the orthotic team, and the prosthetics team. We see how they’re walking, if they need any adjustments to their prosthesis. That’s one of the beauties of physical medicine; it’s a huge team approach. We combine all these resources to save the soldiers a lot of work because they can see all their providers in one setting. Veterans and active duty [servicemembers] fly in from all parts of the country to receive some of their care because it’s one of the best resources Walter Reed has to offer.
The peripheral nerve clinic is another one of those clinics where people fly in to get evaluated because it’s like the meeting of the minds. The heads of our department (physical medicine and rehab), neurology, plastic surgery, and orthopedics all share their input on how they can help a very complex injury. As a provider, you get to learn from other people’s specialties and combine your skill sets to figure out the best source of treatment for a patient. There’s a wealth of knowledge, and it’s so beneficial to the patient.
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