Whether you receive medical care at a Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) facility or with a private provider, odds are your doctor has trained with VA at some point. In fact, almost 70 percent of United States-trained physicians have received training at a VA medical center or clinic thanks to a partnership between VA medical centers and the nation’s medical schools and teaching hospitals.

“I was hooked on Veterans. Here I still am, thirty years later.”

This healthcare partnership was established in the wake of the Allied victory in World War II, when over 100,000 patients were anticipated to arrive from around the world and there were only 84,000 beds and about 1,000 physicians in VA facilities, mainly in rural areas.

Trainees of 40 different professions

To meet this challenge, VA struck a foresighted and strategic agreement in 1946 with U.S. medical schools: VA offered their sites as clinical training laboratories to professors and trainees, while VA patients got access to the best and the brightest physicians with state of the art medical care. These affiliations continue to this day as VA offers clinical training to not only physician trainees, but trainees of over 40 different health professions – pharmacists, audiologists, dietitians, social workers, physical therapists, optometrists, podiatrists, physician assistants, respiratory therapists, and nurse practitioners, to name a few.

The VHA Office of Academic Affiliations (OAA) oversees this mammoth clinical training enterprise. Dr. Karen Sanders, OAA’s Deputy Chief Officer, has been in the health care education business for over 30 years. She says that these educational partnerships have benefited Veterans, trainees and the educational programs themselves.

OAA Deputy Chief Officer Dr. Karen Sanders (left) talking with OAA Clinical Nursing Director Jemma Ayvazian, Ph.D.

OAA Deputy Chief Officer Dr. Karen Sanders (left) talking with OAA Clinical Nursing Director Jemma Ayvazian, Ph.D.

The VA, which trains over 120,000 health professional trainees each year, is the leader when it comes to preparing future health professionals to meet the needs of Veterans and the American public.

Sanders, who started as an intern at the Providence, Rhode Island, VA Medical Center over 30 years ago, says she would never have known about VA or its system of health care without the rotations that she took part in as an intern.

“I was handed a stack of cards and they said, ‘these are your patients, doctor,’” Sanders said, laughing. “I was hooked! I was hooked on Veterans, I was hooked on the VA system, I was hooked on the care we provided … I was hooked on the ability to teach and train and do research. Here I still am, thirty years later.”

nurse at filing cabinet

If any program in VA understands the word “partnership,” it’s OAA. VA’s physician education program is conducted in collaboration with 144 of 152 Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME)-accredited medical schools and 34 out of 34 accredited Doctorate of Osteopathic Medicine degree-granting schools. In fact, more than 40 different health professions are represented by affiliations with over 1,800 unique colleges and universities.

In Academic Year 2017, over 45,000 physician residents, nearly 25,000 medical students, and about 60,000 other kinds of trainees (nurses, psychologists, dentists and others) received some or all of their clinical training at VA.

The best care anywhere

The partnerships between VA and affiliated education programs and institutions created the basis for decades of excellence in medical care for Veterans. Faculty from affiliated schools are often part-time staff members at VA, supervising trainees while taking care of Veterans. The trainee population is also a steady and reliable source of VA recruitment and staffing. Veterans have access to state of the art clinical research trials, the most current medical knowledge, and equipment and expertise that might otherwise only reside in specialized centers. It is often said that VA’s affiliations and the rich educational environment have formed the bedrock for VA to provide the “best care anywhere.”

Often considered the “best kept secret” in VA, the OAA builds on these strong academic partnerships to create the Nation’s healthcare workforce of the future. Ask your doctor on your next visit, “Did you train in the VA?”

Here’s more information on the Office of Academic Affiliations and VA’s educational mission.

About the author: Matt Overton is with VA’s Office of Modernization’s Communications Team (The Blazing Armadillos).

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Published on Feb. 14, 2019

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