In Europe, while most of the other medical specialties have existed for a long time under the same names in the different countries (Cardiology, Neurology, Radiology, etc…), it is of interest to observe that Physical and Rehabilitation Medicine (PRM) began to be organised during the years of laborious birth of the great political European organizations, Council of Europe in 1949, and then European Community (Treaty of Rome) in 1957. The specialty of PRM, in Europe, has therefore found its strength and spirit in the foundations of the European mind.
From the 1950s to the 1970s, some doctors, from different European countries, linked by the same mind and spirit and the same will to go ahead, got to work in order to individualize, to make autonomous, and to develop the new speciality which was neither known nor named at that time.
As a result, their work resulted in the foundation of three European organizations which, growing and enhancing their own activities, resulted in the setting up of a new autonomous specialty in all the European countries.
These three organizations were, chronologically: in 1963, the European Federation of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation; in 1969 the “Académie Médicale Européenne de Médecine de Réadaptation; and in 1971 the PRM Section of the European Union of Medical Specialists (UEMS).
The organization founders, and those who, over the years, have dedicated themselves to working within the organization (and people working for the same goal, later on), were considered convinced “Europeans” and also saw their mission as integrated in European community growth. The aim of their mission was to found a “physiatric Europe,” according to a concept of a discipline with a European identity.
Since 1954, preliminary meetings, gathering some specialists from different countries and different disciplines, have been held in order to prepare the substructure of education and training in the specialty of Physical Medicine.
The official birth of this Federation ( EFPMR), under the name of “Fédération Européenne de Médecine Physique et Réadaptation” (as written in French in Belgium), was tabled on April 25, 1963 as published in the Official Journal of the Belgian Kingdom. The aims of this federation were essentially scientific. It established the following purposes:
(1) the organization of scientific collaboration with the view to develop PRM;
(2) the harmonization across European countries of both specialist training and qualification criteria in rehabilitation medicine;
(3) the promotion in each European country of a national PRM scientific society and of a theoretical organization to defend the general interests of the PRM specialist; and (4) the harmonization on an international level of the actions taken by different organizations and the representation of the PRM specialization in various European authorities.
The EFPMR was represented as a nongovernmental organization at the European Council and, through the collaboration of two experts, A. Van Gestel and F. Isch, the Dutch and French delegates, respectively, participated in the elaboration of an important paper, published in 1984, entitled “A coherent policy for the rehabilitation of people with disabilities—training of healthcare personnel involved in the field of rehabilitation: the current situation in member states and proposals to improve this type of training.” So, in this time in which the specialty did not exist in any European country, the Federation created the conditions for the emergence and concretization of a new specialty and for its practitioners’ defence.
The Federation worked in three main directions:
1. Identification of a new medical specialty that had to be recognized. To this end, the Federation was recognized as a non-governmental organization by the Council of Europe.
2. Until the beginning of the 1980s, the first basis of a European program for education & training in PRM were made by the Federation (R. Waghemacker’s report in the 5th Congress of the International Federation in Montréal). This training program was chosen as a model by a working group of the WHO in Konstancin (Poland) in 1971.
3. On and after 1980, the Federation concentrated its activities on European Congresses, held every two years. These congresses have played a role by enhancing the level of scientific presentations and publications
Moreover, the scientific journal Europa Medicophysica, founded by Dario Fiandesio (Italy), has been circulating since 1964. This indexed review, now known as the European Journal of Physical and Rehabilitation Medicine, represents an important tool for the development of PRM research in Europe.
Presidents of European Federation of PMR :
1963-66: R. Waghemacker
1967-70: B. Bangma
1971-74: D. Fiandesio
1975-78: F. Oelze
1979-81: R. Waghemacker
1982-86: F. Isch
1987-90: F. Barnosell
1991-94: A. Van Gestel
1995-98: G. Vanderstraeten
1999-03: H. Stam
In the last 20 years, the growing activities of the PRM Section of the UEMS and those of the Academy have resulted in the decrease of activity of the Federation. However, it would be unfair to reduce the important role that this Federation has played for the emergence and growth of the speciality.
In and after 1990, members of the Section worked in earnest to prepare the setting up of the European Board of P&RM. The main goal of the Board was the harmonization of education and training in the different countries, at the highest possible level.
For reasons that were not conflictual, the European Federation of PRM was dissolved to make way for the creation of European Society of Physical and Rehabilitation Medicine.
ESPRM first steps
The National societies (which in 1963 were only 5) in 2003 had reached the number of 21 (Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Netherlands, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, Slovenia, Switzerland, Turkey, United Kingdom, Ireland and Spain).In this period PRM strongly enriched its role all over the Europe, gaining responsibilities in Health Services in many Countries (unfortunately having many differences in educational and professional fields) and receiving some acknowledgments by the European bodies too.
On 2003 the European Society was founded, whose membership is open also to individual members specialized in PRM, although the participation of National Societies remains its central element. Furthermore, the role of the Society is strengthened with regards to its cooperation with other organisms (i.e. UEMS and Academy) which work at European level in the Physical and Rehabilitation Medicine field, as well as at International level with the ISPRM (International Society of PRM).
The mission of ESPRM is a) to be the leading scientific European Society for physicians in the field of physical and rehabilitation medicine, b) to improve the knowledge of fundamentals and the management of activities, participation and contextual factors of people with a disability and c) to improve and maintain a strong connection between research and clinical practice in PRM.
Prof. Henk Stam has been the first President of the European Society (2003-2007), and he was also the last President of the Federation (1999-2003). He was succeeded by Prof. Alessandro Giustini (2007-2011), Prof. Xanthi Michail (2011-2015) and now from the current President Prof. Alain Delarque (2015 – 2019).