As a physician for ultramarathon events—250 kilometers in distance—David J. “D.J.” Kennedy traveled the world: Madagascar, Nepal, Antarctica and the Sahara, Atacama and Gobi deserts.
He grew up in Florida and obtained his medical degree from the University of Florida’s College of Medicine. After completing an internship at Tulane University, he did his residency in physical medicine and rehabilitation (PM&R) at the University of Washington and his fellowship in sports and spine at Northwestern University’s Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago.
Most recently Kennedy lived in California, where he was residency program director in the Division of PM&R at Stanford University’s Department of Orthopaedics.
Newly settled at Vanderbilt as chair of the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, he says that Nashville has been an easy adjustment. “People are honestly friendly,” he said. “We walk around our neighborhood and people are nice and inviting. The culture of the university has been outstanding.”
Also earning high praise is Nashville’s hot chicken and barbecue.
“California has phenomenal Pan Asian food, but they can’t do two things well. They cannot do fried chicken and they cannot do barbecue, at least in the Bay area,” he joked.
At Vanderbilt, Kennedy is leading a department that includes 43 faculty and approximately 200 staff. PM&R includes clinical, training and research programs, as well as oversight for academic and clinical programs at Vanderbilt Stallworth Rehabilitation Hospital and the department’s presence at five off-site locations throughout the Vanderbilt Health System.
PM&R is often called a “quality of life profession” because its aim is to enhance a patient’s function and well-being after stroke, brain or spinal cord injury, and a wide range of neurological and orthopaedic conditions from severe trauma recovery to injury prevention for athletes.
As Kennedy gets to know his team in PM&R and develop the department’s strategy, he calls upon his experience as a strength and conditioning coach for Florida State University’s football program under Bobby Bowden.
“Coach Bowden and the entire staff while I was there were the most caring people I’ve ever worked for,” he said. “They cared about the individuals on the team. That meant something, and it has stayed with me as I’ve gone through this process in terms of how I work with my team. I really try to develop a family atmosphere among my co-workers.”
Kennedy, his wife, Lindsey, and their 3-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Arianna, live near campus, which allows them to enjoy lunch together frequently, an important perk given that he is prone to working long hours. In their free time, the family enjoys paddle boarding on Percy Priest Lake and walking the trails at Radnor Lake.