A physiatrist practices in the field of physiatry—also called physical medicine and rehabilitation—which is a board-certified branch of medicine that specializes in the diagnosis, treatment, and management of disease, primarily using "physical" means, such as physical therapy and medications. Physiatrists do not perform surgery.

Some physiatrists have broad-based practices that treat a variety of diseases and symptoms for the musculoskeletal system while others take particular interest in specific problems such as arthritis or fibromyalgia.

A physiatrist may also be referred to as a physical medicine and rehabilitation physician or a PM&R physician. Physiatrists are either a medical doctor (MD) or a doctor of osteopathic medicine (DO).