Not So Ordinary Medicine: Meet Dr. Emily Wang



Since Charlotte Lawrence has graduated and is moving on to her time at Rice University, Sam Heanue and Stella Straub will now be moving forward with Not So Everyday Medicine.  This spring, they had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Emily Wang, an instructor and practicing physician at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  In their time with her, they learned more about her journey to medicine, life as a female doctor, and what the rapidly growing field of physiatry is becoming so popular. 

Dr. Wang grew up in Belmont, Massachusetts, where she attended the Buckingham Browne & Nichols Upper School in Cambridge.  Wang was always interested in science but became intrigued by medicine during her high school years. 

Following high school, Wang attended undergraduate school at Harvard University, and went on to earn her doctorate from the New York University Grossman School of Medicine, which has one of the best sports medicine programs in the world. 

She began her career interested in sports medicine, with a focus on musculoskeletal care.  But she eventually ended up getting into pain medicine because there is a need for people who are able to deal with pain management in runners, swimmers, and other athletes. 

Wang works in physiatry, a diverse specialty that ranges from musculoskeletal care components to patients with neurological disabilities and cerebral palsy.  She also runs an outpatient clinic at Beth Israel Deaconess.

With a lot of other women specialists in the field, there are many people to bounce ideas off of.  More young women are now becoming interested in the field of physiatry that Wang has been able to mentor. 

Physiatry goes beyond just pain medicine and sports medicine.  It encompasses traumatic brain injury, spinal cord injury, cerebral palsy, burn injuries, and prosthetics.  The field is rapidly changing and growing.

Though most people consider it to be synonymous with sports medicine, physiatry is more applicable due to its broader range of uses in the medical world.

Wang said the competitive nature of the field is due to its relation and with some of the most popular specialties in medicine. She said while there has always been extreme competition in both pain and sports medicine, interest in physiatry has risen due to its wide range of uses. 

One of the most common problems that Wang sees is lower back pain, present in people of all ages. She sees a lot of younger runners or athletes who have run the Boston Marathon who have severe back pain compared to older people with degenerative diseases. 

Wang said that she saw a variety of back problems as the pandemic progressed because people were working from home and spending more time sitting down.  However, a lot of people also had more time to increase their walking, hiking, and running outdoors.  As people started to get more fit and pay more attention to health and wellness, knee pain and back pain from running and other activities also became more prominent.  

Now, as more people begin returning to the office, they spend more time sitting in traffic and working long hours, which can lead to additional back pain.

Wang said that the best way to stay healthy when it comes to physical medicine is to train your body to stay safe.  For example, if you’re running long distances or engaging in extensive cardio, it’s important to activate the right muscles beforehand. 

There are also newer items being developed for helping people deal with their pain. For example, people can enter a virtual reality world to help feel calmer, though there’s not enough clinical data to back this up.  Additionally, robots or physical therapy modalities and devices that are being used to help those who can’t walk move again. 

In addition to her work as a practicing physician, Wang oversees a program that trains fellows at Harvard Medical School in both pain management and anesthesiology.

Wang also does research on musculoskeletal injuries. The most recent research she published was a case study on a young female athlete who had a heart condition that hadn’t been thoroughly studied.

Many people didn’t know how to approach the injury, and she had a lot of problems with mobility that her primary medical team didn’t know how to address.  

They are very grateful to Dr. Wang for sharing her experience with her work with us and being such an inspiring story to others hoping to possibly pursue a career in physiatry or medicine.

acute pain, physical medicine and rehabilitation, manual therapy, emily wang, beth israel deaconess medical center, physician, rehabilitation medicine, sports medicine, medical specialty, neurology, pain, medicine, anesthesiology, physical therapy, harvard medical school