In doing this, the committee considered historical examples and rationale for the establishment and growth of other fields. It also considered the differences between academic and scientific fields of study and professional disciplines.
In analyzing the current state of knowledge and education related to rehabilitation science and engineering, the committee came to three initial observations. First, rehabilitation-related research is conducted within a variety of disciplines, and although this research is integral to each discipline, it is not dominant. Second, each of the separate existing disciplines has complementary and distinct perspectives on disability and rehabilitation, yet all address the enabling-disabling process as a fundamental concept. The third observation is that the research in the separate health, health professional, and engineering disciplines, although complementary, is not optimally interfaced or balanced. A distinct field of study—one that would contribute to other disciplines but that gives a conceptual structure across disciplines—could be beneficial if it enhances the current research, stimulates innovations, and coordinates the growth of knowledge. The following sections discuss each of these three findings.
The committee found that the existing health professional disciplines generate and use rehabilitation-related knowledge as the basis for preparing practitioners and delivering services. Many health professional disciplines participate in generating knowledge relevant to rehabilitation and the prevention of disability in the presence of disabling conditions. The most prolific and productive professional discipline in this regard is medicine and its subrealm of physical medicine and rehabilitation. Physical medicine and rehabilitation has also successfully coordinated with engineering in generating new knowledge and clinical therapeutic devices. Rehabilitation-related research is conducted from the perspectives of the disciplines of nursing (rehabilitation nursing), physical therapy, occupational therapy, and other health care professions. In each case, the professional disciplines all conduct research that contributes not only to their profession but also to the field of rehabilitation science and engineering. In each of these disciplines, however, rehabilitation-related research represents only a subset of knowledge and activity. Other areas of research are often more dominant in these disciplines, such as those related to acute illnesses, primary prevention of acute illnesses, health promotion, pro-