In 2009 Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) created an internal task force to work with external consultants to evaluate the existing practice model for rehabilitation services at Vanderbilt and to study other practice models considered to be the “best of the best” in rehabilitation. The task force was given the assignment to make key recommendations to help create an interdisciplinary rehabilitation structure that would oversee inpatient rehabilitation at Vanderbilt Stallworth Rehabilitation Hospital (VSRH) and coordinate inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation programs with existing departments and entities across the medical center.

After a comprehensive assessment and extensive discussions with experts in the field, the task force recommended the establishment of a new Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (PM&R) and the appointment of a new physician leader with a sustained record of excellence in clinical, academic, and research activity in the field of PM&R. The new physician leader would ensure effective collaboration with other departments and educational affiliates of the VUMC, oversee the faculty and academic and research activities, and develop the infrastructure and facilities to support them.

In early 2011 a search committee was appointed to recruit the new PM&R leader. After a thorough search and interview process by the committee, Walter Frontera, MD, PhD was appointed the Inaugural Chair of the new Vanderbilt Department of PM&R. The Department was officially established in April 2012. In 2012 and 2013, several faculty members were recruited. The offices of the Department were inaugurated in August 2013.