Our History

The Department of Rehabilitation Medicine at the College of Physicians & Surgeons was established in 1952, with Dr. Robert Darling as the first Chair. Dr. Darling served from 1952 - 1973.

Dr. Darling was succeeded by Dr. John A. Downey, who served as Chair from 1974 - 1991. Dr. James S. Lieberman succeeded Dr. Downey in 1991 until 2006. Dr. Joel Stein became chair in 2008.

Prior to the establishment of the Department in 1952, there was a Division of Physical Therapy (later Physical Medicine) in the Department of Medicine. The Division was under the leadership of Dr. William Benham Snow. During Dr. Snow's tenure, a residency program in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation was developed and fully accredited in 1948. Thus, the Department has one of the oldest residency programs in the country.

The Program in Occupational Therapy began as a certificate program in 1941, followed by a similar program in Physical Therapy that was started in 1942. These programs were housed on the Morningside Campus until 1945. After 1945, they were both moved to the Health Sciences Campus. Both programs began offering a baccalaureate degree in 1946. The Occupational Therapy Program began to offer a Master's degree in 1970, while the Physical Therapy Program began to offer a Master's degree in 1980 and a Doctorate in Physical Therapy degee thereafter. After the programs moved to the Health Sciences Campus, they were part of The Department of Medicine. However, when The Department of Rehabilitation Medicine was formed in 1952, both programs became a part of our Department.

In the late 1940's Columbia University received a large gift from The Baruch Committee. The purpose of the gift was to establish a model center for basic research and teaching of physical medicine. Funds from the original Baruch Gift are still used at the present time.

A Rehabilitation Medicine "bed service" was created at Presbyterian Hospital in 1959. This was originally located in the Neurological Institute. The unit moved to its current location in the Milstein Hospital Building in 1997. The William Randolph Hearst Inpatient Rehabilitation Unit received its first accreditation from CARF (The Commission for Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities) in 1986 and remains CARF certified.