When you think about Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (PM&R), you might focus primarily on what it can do for adults. Assistant Professor John Fox, DO, Director of the Pediatric Rehabilitation Medicine Program in the Division of PM&R, has a different perspective.

As his title indicates, Dr. Fox works with children, from babies to those in their early 20s. He will begin seeing patients in the Explorer Clinic of the University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital soon. Fox is excited to be part of the U of M. “The University has a reputation for providing excellent patient care as well as for conducting cutting-edge research,” he said. “I’m thrilled to be part of the Department of Rehabilitation Medicine. It is a team that’s growing and thriving.”

Dr. John Fox

Fox (pictured at left) earned his Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) degree from Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine in Erie, PA. He completed his Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation residency at Rusk Rehabilitation of New York University, in New York City. He then came to the University of Minnesota to complete a fellowship in Pediatric Rehabilitation Medicine at Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare in St. Paul, MN.

After completing his fellowship, Dr. Fox joined the department faculty in late November of 2020.

Specialized skills
Working with this patient population requires specialized skills. “Children can be more challenging to treat because they can’t always tell you what they’re experiencing,” said Fox. “You need to watch how they are physically moving and how they interact with you, their family, and the environment.”

Fox added that parents are his partners in caring for their children. “Working through the parents helps the kids see how that relationship is developing so they’re more comfortable with you as a healthcare provider,” he said. Fox also believes in the importance of helping the child and their caregivers understand the rationale for treatment. “I answer their questions in a way that helps them understand,” he said.

Range of conditions
There are a wide range of conditions that Fox treats in his patients, including developmental delay, cerebral palsy, spina bifida, brain injury, spinal cord injury, neuromuscular disorders (e.g., Duchenne muscular dystrophy, spinal muscular atrophy, Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease), spasticity, and complex movement disorders.

John Fox on "Foxy Friday"

Fox wants to be as approachable as possible with his patients. “At prior hospitals, I did something I called Foxy Fridays during which I wore a plush fox hat to help offset my patients’ fears,” he said. “It showed them that the treatment process can be fun, not scary.”

His goal as a pediatric rehabilitation doctor is to work with his patients to optimize their function and increase their independence as much as possible. “I help my patients and their caregivers identify achievable goals,” he said. A shared decision-making process is necessary to help his patients reach those goals, according to Fox, who plays the role of overall care coordinator.

Collaborative effort
“Pediatric rehabilitation is very much a collaborative effort,” he said. “I work with physical, occupational, and speech therapists to develop a rehabilitation program, orthotists for bracing needs, neuropsychologists for cognitive assessments, social workers to ensure my patients are supported, as well as with primary and specialty care providers.”

Fox likes the collaborative nature of pediatric physiatry. “I get to work with a multitude of providers in addition to the patient and their family,” he said. “We focus on the child as a whole. When they achieve their goals, it’s very rewarding, and reinforces why I do what I do.”

Teaching, doing research
In addition to patient care, Fox will be teaching residents and medical students in the department. He also plans to conduct research at the University. “My interests include muscle tone management, brain development, healthcare disparities among children with special health care needs, general wellness, and the use of acupuncture when providing care,” he said. Fox completed the Acupuncture Integrative Medicine Training Program at Tri-State College of Acupuncture in New York, NY. “It’s something I’m hoping to bring into my practice eventually,” he said. “It provides another way to manage pain and mood, and may help with muscle tone.”

Best donut in the Twin Cities?
When not working, Fox enjoys being outdoors, where he and his partner kayak, hike, cycle, and take Kole, their recently adopted Husky/Bernese Mountain Dog puppy, for walks. “I appreciate the access we have to nature, arts, sports, and restaurants here in the Twin Cities,” he said. “I’m still searching for the best donut, though.”