Physician Features

Volunteer Spotlight: Cherina Cyborski, MD

Cherina Cyborski, MD, is the June ABPMR Volunteer Spotlight feature! Dr. Cyborski is currently Chief of PM&R at the Washington DC VA Medical Center. She previously served in the private sector at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago, and as the Service Chief of Rehabilitation and Wellness at the National Intrepid Center of Excellence at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

She received her medical degree from Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and became board certified in PM&R in 2008 and in brain injury medicine in 2014; she is also licensed to practice acupuncture. She is an Assistant Professor of PM&R at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences. As an ABPMR volunteer, Dr. Cyborski works as an oral examiner for the Part II Examination and an item writer for the Brain Injury Medicine Examination.

We spoke with Dr. Cyborski about her career and volunteer work, the experience that got her into PM&R, starting a new leadership position during a pandemic, and the valuable memories and connections volunteering has given her.

How did you get started in PM&R?

I was lucky enough to go to Northwestern University where there is a very good PM&R program. I came into medical school thinking I would be a pediatrician, and my to-be-husband came in thinking he was going to be a physiatrist. We started dating our second year of school and swapped—he’s now a pediatrician and I’m a physiatrist! He was probably my first introduction to it.

My first real experience with it was in my first year of medical school with a patient experience program where we were able to shadow residents; I was assigned at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (RIC). It was an amazing experience and I was exposed to all the benefits of PM&R—the interdisciplinary team, the different modalities, the person-to-person connection. The resident I was assigned to knew I was a [Chicago] Cubs fan and he hooked me up with a patient affiliated with the Cubs to shadow. The experience sold me on PM&R!

After medical school, what did your career look like? Did you stay in Chicago?

I went to RIC for residency and my fellowship in brain injury medicine, and did my acupuncture training while I was a fellow. I stayed at RIC for a few years as an attending physician. I was able to do inpatient consults for brain injury, have an inpatient rehabilitation service, an outpatient follow-up, and do some acupuncture.

I then got an opportunity to be part of a brain injury comprehensive program through the Department of Defense, so we moved to Washington, DC where I worked at Walter Reed [National Military Medical Center]. I was there at the National Intrepid Center of Excellence from May 2012 to May 2020 as a supervisor, service of physical therapy and occupational therapy, speech therapy, audiology, recreational therapy, and other various disciplines. I then started as the Chief of PM&R at the Washington DC VA Medical Center in May 2020!

What was that like starting a new job during the pandemic?

It has been a wild ride—and all the more wild because a lot of other supervisors in my department are new as well! It’s been a benefit because we’ve been able to start from scratch and create new programs. The downside is that on a supervisor leadership level I haven’t gotten the organic mixing and mingling with people to get to know the departments and even my own staff. I don’t know what they look like without a mask on! The other challenging part was I started the new job on May 11th with the Black Lives Matter movement being amplified shortly after—I’ve been working on encapsulating that movement in my leadership.

How did you start volunteering with the ABPMR?

I got involved in 2014 when I was invited to be an oral board examiner, which is so much fun. I was then asked to help with item writing for the brain injury boards and happily did that too. The ABPMR has been a great part in keeping me connected with other physiatrists and what is most current in the field, so I take the opportunity to volunteer if given and I always love it.

What else about volunteering keeps you engaged?

When I was at Walter Reed I was separated from other physiatrists for a long time, so I definitely felt like I needed that human connection with other providers. Connecting personally, professionally, and intellectually keeps me motivated.

What have you learned about the field or your role as a physician through volunteering?

Everybody can teach you something. I really look forward to exam weekends to get together with people who are more senior than me to have discussions about life, love, and the pursuit of happiness within physiatry. With examining, you also hear what new physicians are thinking about and how they present what they’ve been taught. When it comes to item writing, it’s more the academic side and keeping up to date with the field.

What would you say to a diplomate considering volunteering?

It’s worth it! It may be a few extra hours here or there, but it pays off in the end. You get new perspectives on other people and practices, and the behind the scenes of what happens to make a specialty. If I can do it, anyone can. I’m pretty lazy.

Do you have any memorable volunteer experiences?

I love being able to see the people who went through my program and catching up [during exam weekends].

I’m in my current job because of the ABPMR, actually. For item writing, I was paired with two physicians at separate VAs and one of them kept encouraging me to look at working at the VA. They’ve been the closest thing to mentors to me— that is the best experience ABPMR has given me, and it has been one of the best experiences of my life.

Outside of work and volunteering, what else do you get up to?

Sleeping and napping are my favorite. I will start up being a chauffeur again for my children. I’m into crafting and needlepoint; that was happening all through residency. I might have been the only person to ever needlepoint during lectures. And I like to travel! I studied abroad in Australia as an undergrad, went back for a vacation in medical school, and my husband and I did an amazing away rotation there in the fourth year of medical school. I would love to do that again!

Dr. Cyborski's travels

Thank you, Dr. Cyborski, for your valuable work with the ABPMR and your commitment to the examination process as an examiner and item writer. Thank you to all ABPMR volunteers who continue to dedicate so much of their time and effort to the mission of the ABPMR and the field of PM&R!

Originally Published: June 02, 2021