Physician Features

Volunteer Spotlight: Matt McLaughlin, MD, MS

The ABPMR relies on the dedication of our amazing volunteers to fulfill our mission: serving the public by setting the standard for quality in PM&R. Every one of our volunteers matters to us, and we want to show our immense appreciation for the time they give and the amazing work they do.

The new Volunteer Spotlight series will feature ABPMR volunteers to showcase who they are, what they do, and why they do it. Thank you to all our volunteers—we are grateful for everything you do!

Our first Volunteer Spotlight features Matt McLaughlin, MD, MS. Dr. McLaughlin currently serves as an oral examiner and Pediatric Rehabilitation Medicine (PRM) Examination item writer for the ABPMR. He was certified in PM&R in 2014 and in PRM in 2015. He was also certified by the American Board of Electrodiagnostic Medicine in 2017.

Currently, Dr. McLaughlin is Assistant Professor of Pediatrics in the Divisions of Pediatric Rehabilitation Medicine and Clinical Pharmacology, Toxicology, and Therapeutic Innovation at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City. He completed his pediatric rehabilitation medicine fellowship here from 2013-2015 and his clinical pharmacology fellowship from 2015-2018.

We talked with Dr. McLaughlin about his career, his volunteer work with the ABPMR, a memorable Part II Examination weekend in the rain, and Kansas City barbeque— his favorite food.

How did your journey in PM&R start?

I was very fortunate to have a close family friend who was a physiatrist at the University of Missouri; I shadowed him when I was 18 years old to see what doctors do. It was an early introduction into the field of rehab.

Where did you go from there?

I was able to get into a combined six-year medical school. During my rotations in pediatric rehab medicine and adult rehab medicine, I fell in love with the concept of functioning being the most important component of someone’s life. During my ABPMR oral boards, my goal was to pass and make the examiner smile at least once. I was able to get two out of the three examiners to laugh, so I thought I had clearly passed if I got two to laugh!

What has your career looked like since you finished school?

After I finished my PRM fellowship, I did a second fellowship in clinical pharmacology, which allows me to look at how patients we treat in PM&R respond to medications differently. About 70-75% of my time is research and clinical care directly related to that research, and the rest is limb differences, amputee care, EMGs [electromyography], and intraoperative monitoring.

When did you first start volunteering with ABPMR?

My first experience was participating in a standard setting for the PRM Examination in 2015, then shortly after that I was invited to be an item writer for the PRM Examination. [Item writing] has been an enlightening experience because it helps you know that the questions being administered during the exam are A: fair, B: relevant, and C: have the statistical backing to [determine the knowledge level of physicians]. Item writing gives me a lot of appreciation for the process that goes into compiling a 280-question board exam. I was invited to be an oral board examiner in 2019—this is now my second year of being an oral board examiner.

What got you into volunteering at first?

I had a lot of great mentors in my residency and fellowship who gave back time to the ABPMR and viewed that as an extremely valuable contribution to the medical sciences. I viewed that as an important opportunity, and if I was ever asked to volunteer for the board, [I decided to] always say yes. Being involved as a volunteer means you have a voice in what is tested and important in the field.

What keeps you coming back to the oral exam and item writing?

The candidates. I love when they blow me away with some of the responses they give and their level of completeness. You can tell they have learned and absorbed a lot of information in their four years of residency—and some candidates I try to remember in case I ever need care myself. The hardest part for me as an examiner is not to have further discussions about the cases with the candidates, because I love the teaching aspect of what we do in our specialty. It’s difficult to not be as engaging or gregarious as I usually am. (Note from the ABPMR: Dr. McLaughlin actually manages to be quite engaging in Domain E, the roleplay portion of the vignette—but examiners are trained not to give any verbal or non-verbal feedback to candidates during the exam in order to standardize the experience across all examiners.)

One of the reasons I continue writing items is the group of people involved with the writing. They all are critically thinking about the important [aspects] of what we’re going to be doing as a medical specialty going forward.

Do you have any fun stories or memorable experiences during your time as an ABPMR volunteer?

I have a lot of stories. When I went to my first meeting I was extremely nervous because I thought the ABPMR was a nameless, faceless organization—but what I found was the exact opposite.

If you really want one specific story, last year at the Part II Examination, four other pediatric physiatrists and I decided to walk six or seven blocks to dinner on a beautiful night. As dinner ended, all of the sudden there was a flat-out downpour. All of us ran six blocks, soaking wet, to the hotel. I ended up soaking my suit so much it was still wet the next day for the exam.

Part II Examination weekend after running back to the hotel in the storm

Going to the exams in a wet suit will be hard to forget!

Just remember: ABPMR oral examiners are people too!

You’ve been a volunteer for a few years. What have you learned in the field of PM&R or in general as an ABPMR volunteer?

Humility—and being okay with the fact that you’re not [always] going to know the answer toward everyone’s likely outcome. There are patients that completely surprise you.

I’ve also learned the importance of being appreciative of what you’re able to do right now. When I’m older and my knees have given out and I’m not able to ride my bike anymore, at least I can still swim or lift weights, or still do something that excites me. That is a mindset very unique to physiatrists, and I’ve always appreciated that about our specialty.

Looking ahead at future volunteer opportunities, do you have any plans for where you want to take your volunteer work?

Within the ABPMR, I’d love to continue working on the oral exam, and I’ve loved being an item writer. I would love to have a more advanced role in both of those because I feel like I’ve gained so much experience over the last several years. I look at people who have been doing this for [much longer], and I see I still have a lot to learn even as I progress through different leadership roles.

What would you say to diplomates who are considering volunteering and the opportunities that come with it?

I would say to give it a try! People who have done any type of volunteering in the ABPMR have only said positive things about it. It doesn’t take a top-five leader in the field to make a significant impact by volunteering—it takes someone who has dedication and who has the time and desire to want to do work with the ABPMR.

You sound like you’re busy with work and volunteering, but what else do you enjoy doing?

I try to eat a lot of barbeque. It’s my favorite food! I’m from Kansas City, which I feel is the barbeque capital of the world. Anthony Bourdain once said about one restaurant in town, ‘It’s the best barbeque in Kansas City, which means it’s the best barbeque in the world!’ I have to say, that’s the smartest thing I’ve ever heard anybody say.

I try to play with my two-year-old an awful lot. I spend a lot of time doing house remodeling projects. I do a lot of running and riding my bike, and have even gotten a group of pediatric rehab doctors to do virtual bike rides with stationary bikes. I’m trying to stay as socially engaged with everyone during COVID as I can!

Dr McLaughlin enjoys bike riding to stay active and be outside

Do you have any fun facts that will help others get to know you?

I won a cute baby contest when I was 12 months old.

What was the contest for?

It was to win a bunch of free diapers at Kmart. I had a little drool on my bib and still won!

The photo that won the Cute Baby Contest

Dr. McLaughlin has volunteered for two of the three administrations of the virtual Part II Examination in 2020. Thank you, Dr. McLaughlin, for all your work with the ABPMR, and especially for your extraordinary commitment to making the virtual Part II Examination a success this year. To all the ABPMR volunteers who have dedicated so much of their time and effort to the field of PM&R: thank you!

Originally Published: November 06, 2020