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This is the pre-peer reviewed version of the following article:

Ditunno, J.F., Jr. and Verville, R.E. (2013), Dr. Robert L. Bennett: Pioneer and Definer of Modern Physiatry. PM&R, 5: 83-89.

It has been published in final form at This article may be used for non-commercial purposes in accordance with Wiley Terms and Conditions for Use of Self-Archived Versions.


Few physiatrists today would appreciate Dr. Robert L. Bennett’s contributions to our specialty, since he most commonly was associated with poliomyelitis, a cured disease for over a half century. Less are aware of the pioneering fusion of physical medicine in 1941 by Krusen’s first resident with the independent living environment of the Georgia Warm Spring Foundation (GWSF) created by a USA president. Bennett recognized polio/GWSF as the workshop and laboratory for showcasing the new specialty of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (PMR). He taught us that accurate muscle testing determined the plan of muscle reeducation, which led to functional training with a rehabilitation team and this approach was equally valid for complicated diseases such as spinal cord injury and traumatic brain injury. His leadership, as chair of the American Board of PMR for 10 years, is unequaled in tenure and vision. In over 100 articles, he defined Physiatry to all physicians and allied health professionals and predicted the physiatrist of tomorrow would need to be a complete physician who specialized in certain diseases that he could care for, because of his unique set of knowledge and skill. He founded the first department of Physical Medicine in the South at Emory University in 1945, trained over a hundred fellows and residents and played a role in the establishment of the Research and Training Center 20 years later. He taught and practiced as Professor of Rehabilitation Medicine until his death in 1983 and is still remembered by several generations that were inspired by his teaching.

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