Robert Pepperman, MD, is a general physiatrist who has specialized in the field of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation (PM&R) for about 25 years. He worked in the greater Hartford area before joining Yale Medicine. He cares for athletes and nonathletes ages 16 to 100 who are struggling with low back pain, cervical pain, shoulder pain, hip pain and all sorts of musculoskeletal disabilities.
Physiatrists—MDs with additional training in physical medicine and rehabilitation—have been practicing PM&R, a specialty since the 1940s. Their goal is to treat the muscles, joints and nerves without surgery, considering the “whole picture,” rather than focusing on one specific body part. But many patients and even doctors don’t know much about PM&R, Dr. Pepperman says. “Sometimes in the beginning I have to explain what we do. The good thing is that the physiatry presence is quite big at Yale, so it’s easy to collaborate with other physicians.”
Dr. Pepperman provides a variety of treatments, including medications, cortisone injections, physical therapy and exercise programs to relieve pain and restore function. “Most patients do well,” he says, adding that he will refer a patient to an orthopedic surgeon if they have an issue that doesn’t fall under his specialization. Yale Medicine provides easy access to imaging studies, including X-rays, MRIs and CT scans, and same-day evaluations when necessary. But Dr. Pepperman says, “I don't go right to the medical issues. First, I try to get to know patients as people. I get them motivated,” he says, adding that it’s important to know whether the patient simply wants pain relief or if they are missing an active athletic schedule. “Motivation is an important aspect of healing. So that is the approach I take with everyone,” he says.
An assistant professor at Yale School of Medicine, Dr. Pepperman says he’s never had a bad day when he’s working with patients. “Even when they call me at night or on the weekends, I'm happy to help them,” he says. “That’s what motivates me.”