How partnerships improve VA quality of care, train health care professionals


More than 75 years ago as the Department of Veterans Affairs prepared to welcome home more than 100,000 veteran patients from World War II, VA hospitals and medical schools across the country developed an unprecedented plan to partner together. The plan had three goals — to recruit doctors for VA, train the country’s next generation of health professionals, and provide world-class care for our nation’s veterans. The decision would have a lasting mark on our health care system.

Today, VA is the largest training platform for health care professionals in the country. VA’s academic mission is a vast clinical training enterprise that touches every segment of society, from patients in metropolitan hospitals to underserved communities in the farthest reaches of rural America. It is an enterprise conducted in collaboration with more than 1,400 colleges, including 99% of the nation’s medical schools, which train approximately 113,000-plus future health professionals each year. Nearly 70% of America’s physicians complete training at VA, directly contributing to the quality and access of veteran health care and health care in the country at large.

VA trains students and residents at more than 150 VA medical centers across the country in over 60 health professions including pharmacy, nursing, general and specialized medicine and dentistry. VA provides more than 50% of accredited postdoctoral psychology training programs and 33% of the nation’s dental residency programs. Annually, more than 16,000 nursing students complete training at VA. This vast nationwide training platform helps ensure medical schools, colleges and universities have sufficient suitable locations for their students and residents to complete their training.

Some of the major benefits of training at VA stem from our focus on interprofessional collaboration in health care, a major strategy for health care reform shown to improve patient outcomes. This model affords VA the opportunity to fulfill its mission to improve the quality of care for veterans while VA develops the best and brightest health professionals — many of whom choose careers at VA. In fact, 80% of VA optometrists, 70% of VA psychologists and podiatrists, and 60% of VA physicians participated in VA training programs.

Nationwide, VA has been at the forefront of recognizing and championing accreditation for new and emerging health care disciplines to benefit all Americans. Specialties such as psychology, geriatric medicine, palliative care and traumatic brain injury are now integral to the health care landscape. Robust residencies in health fields such as podiatry, social work and addiction therapy are also innovations directly linked to VA.

As VA moves forward in expanding specialty programs, we are also working to deepen our affiliations with Minority Serving Institutions, such as Historically Black Colleges and Universities. These efforts serve to ensure that we train a future health care workforce that reflects our Veteran population and is equipped to adapt and meet our diverse and ever-changing public health needs.

It goes without saying that the past two years have presented the most challenging global pandemic of our lifetime. Our VA trainees, such as physician residents and fellows and nursing trainees working in our medical, surgical, and intensive care units, were critical to providing care for our veterans. Now, the Association of American Medical Colleges reports medical school enrollments are at an all-time high. VA stands ready to train these future health professionals in our hospitals, preparing them to deliver face-to-face care and to utilize the latest advances in modalities such as telehealth.

VA’s academic mission is critical to veterans and the nation. By developing and training highly skilled and diverse health professions trainees in partnership with our academic affiliates, we are improving the quality of care for veterans and enhancing equity in care provision. Moreover, by involving trainees in the care of veterans, our future health professionals complete their training with a profound appreciation for the brave individuals who have served our country.

Learn more about VA’s mission of training health care professionals and about partnership opportunities at VA Office of Academic Affiliations.

Dr. Steven L. Lieberman, M.D., is the deputy under secretary for health, performing the delegable duties of the under secretary for health, Veterans Health Administration. Dr. Lieberman leads VHA, the largest integrated health system in the nation, managing a budget of over $87 billion and overseeing the care of 9 million veterans. Dr. Lieberman is a board-certified physician in pulmonary and critical care and has over 25 years of experience with VA.

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