Elizabeth Sandel, MD

Physiatrist & Brain Injury Medicine Specialist

Elizabeth Sandel, MD has provided medical care to patients with brain injuries and leadership in her field for more than 40 years.

She is a physiatrist, Board-Certified in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (PM&R), and Brain Injury Medicine (BIM). She has practiced medicine and served in teaching, research, and administrative roles in healthcare systems on the East and West Coast.

She was a member of the Brain Injury Medicine Examination Committee of the American Board of PM&R from 2011 to 2015 and was one of the first group of physicians certified in that medical subspecialty in 2014.

© Photo: Susan Freundlich

Educating the Public about Brain Injury

Now in retirement from clinical practice and research, Dr. Sandel spends much of her time educating the public about brain injury through her website and publications. Her book, Shaken Brain: The Science, Care, and Treatment of Concussion (Harvard University Press, 2020), is a resource for patients, families, and others who want to understand injuries to the brain and what interventions can help.

Dr. Sandel is Chair of the Board of Concussion Alliance, a 501c3 non-profit organization whose mission is “to create resources to help everyone impacted by concussions to manage recovery and to inform healthcare providers on current best practice.” In that leadership role, she participates in the education and mentorship of college interns interested in careers in neuroscience, medicine, and other healthcare fields.

National Leadership & Awards

Dr. Sandel has been a member of the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (AAPM&R) since 1982. She served on the Board of Governors for 8 years and as President from 2009–2010. She has been the AAPM&R Historian since 2013, editing and publishing articles about the history of PM&R (physiatry) and its leaders and conducting oral histories of AAPM&R members.

The Pennsylvania Head Injury Foundation, the New Jersey Rehabilitation Association, The College of Physicians, The Permanente Medical Group, the University of Pennsylvania and various other universities have honored Dr. Sandel for her professional contributions. Dr. Sandel received the Krusen Lifetime Achievement Award of the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (AAPM&R) in 2012.

Dr. Sandel is a member of the Board of Directors for the Foundation for PM&R, which promotes research in the field through pilot grants to young researchers.

Education & Career

Dr. Sandel graduated from the Medical College of Pennsylvania (now Drexel College of Medicine) in 1981, and completed a residency in PM&R at Thomas Jefferson University and a fellowship in brain injury rehabilitation at Magee Rehabilitation Hospital in 1985. Following training, Dr. Sandel held academic and clinical positions in Pennsylvania and New Jersey -- at Thomas Jefferson University, the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, and the University of Pennsylvania.

Dr. Sandel joined The Permanente Medical Group in Northern California in 1997. She served as Chief of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation for the Napa Solano Service Area and as Medical Director of the regional Kaiser Foundation Rehabilitation Center in Vallejo, California until 2012.

From 2013 to 2023, Dr. Sandel was a Medical Director for Paradigm, an organization based in Walnut Creek, California, that provides medical case management and care management for catastrophically injured workers.

Dr. Sandel has been a volunteer Clinical Professor in the Department of PM&R at the University of California Davis School of Medicine since 1998. Her research on brain injury and stroke was supported with funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Kaiser Permanente, and the National Institutes of Health.

Published Works


For 35+ years, Dr. Elizabeth Sandel has worked with brain injury patients from all walks of life and conducted countless hours of research on the effects of concussion and other brain injuries. She now seeks to share her extensive knowledge from her work as a brain injury medicine specialist.

An incredibly informative and compelling speaker, Dr. Sandel has presented to a wide range of audiences about the true nature of concussion. She has spoken to the medical community on the latest treatments available for brain injuries as well as to general audiences about what puts people at risk of concussion and the effects of such an injury in the short- and long-term.

Dr. Sandel captivates audiences with stories of her own patients, startling statistics, and the latest medical discoveries. She speaks in language that anyone can understand and leaves her audiences with a new and more informed view of common brain injuries and an itch to raise awareness of both the ubiquity of concussion and the misinformation surrounding this common injury.

Inquire today about Dr. Sandel's availability to speak at your next event about concussions and the writing of Shaken Brain.

In the Media

Kaiser Permanente

Healing through Art & Science

Dr. Sandel guided my very first steps in a nearly 30-year journey in academic medicine and brain injury rehabilitation. As a brain injury fellow under her supervision in the early 1990s, she taught me neuropharmacology and neurorehabilitation as well as critical thinking and the 'art' of taking care of patients with extremely complicated traumatic brain injuries and multiple trauma. I will always be grateful for her mentorship and friendship, and to this day consider my decision to train with her as the single best decision of my entire career.

Michael W. O’Dell, M.D.

New York-Presbyterian Hospital-Weill Cornell Medical Center and Columbia University

Dr. Sandel’s help has meant so much to me in the years since my concussion. She heard and understood what I was going through and didn’t try to tell me don’t worry about it. Instead, she conveyed empathy, which was so powerful. Everyone else was minimizing what I was experiencing, and Dr. Sandel held it for what it was. I cannot thank her enough!

Beverly Swann, M.F.T.

Psychotherapist and Professional Coach, Body-Mind Scholar-Practitioner

Dr. Sandel is a tireless advocate for people with disabilities and their families. Working with her for 15 years, I witnessed firsthand her ability to collaborate with other medical specialists, therapists, and community systems to improve her patients’ health. Without ever losing sight of the individual needs of her patients, Dr. Sandel also pushes for effective models of healthcare delivery for people with brain injuries, strokes, and many other disabling conditions.

Michelle Camicia, M.S.N, C.R.R.N, C.C.M, F.A.H.A.

Director, Rehabilitation Operations, Kaiser Foundation Rehabilitation Center Vallejo, California

Dr. Sandel is among the most recognized and honored physiatrists in the United States. Her inspiring career as a specialist in physical medicine and rehabilitation and brain injury medicine encompasses extraordinary achievements in clinical care, research, and education. Her clinical research has advanced our understanding of neurological rehabilitation, and she advocates for the highest quality care for people with physical and cognitive disabilities. Dr. Sandel’s passion for advancing the treatment of traumatic brain injuries drove her to lead the charge that persuaded the American Board of Medical Specialties to recognize Brain Injury Medicine as a medical specialty.

Steven R. Flanagan, MD

Howard A. Rusk Professor of Rehabilitation Medicine and Chair, Department of Rehabilitation Medicine, New York University School of Medicine/NYU Lagone Medical Center

I have been blessed with many great professional role models in my career, and I am fortunate to count Dr. Sandel among them. She was a pioneer in the field of brain injury medicine and a primary driving force in creating this medical specialty. She is a great clinician, gifted teacher, and productive researcher. More importantly, through all the changes healthcare has experienced, she always reminds us of our primary purpose – to improve people’s lives.

James T. McDeavitt, MD

Sr. VP and Dean of Clinical Affairs, Baylor College of Medicine; Chief Clinical Integration Officer, CHI St Luke’s Health System, Houston, Texas