VA needs skilled health­care lead­ers to speed sys­tem re­forms

Modern Healthcare - - COMMENT - By Dr. David J. Shulkin In­ter­ested in sub­mit­ting a Guest Ex­pert op-ed? View guide­lines at mod­ern­health­care.com/op-ed. Send drafts to As­sis­tant Man­ag­ing Ed­i­tor David May at dmay@mod­ern­health­care.com.

While cam­paign­ing for pres­i­dent in Oc­to­ber 1960, John F. Kennedy spoke to a crowd of stu­dents at the Univer­sity of Michi­gan, chal­leng­ing them to give two years of their lives to serve oth­ers. Since he de­liv­ered that call to duty more than 50 years ago, nearly 220,000 Amer­i­cans have served in the Peace Corps help­ing those in need around the world.

This past year, I an­swered when the call came to serve, ac­cept­ing the role of un­der­sec­re­tary for health at the U.S. Veter­ans Af­fairs Depart­ment. Like so many oth­ers be­fore me who re­sponded when their coun­try needed them, I found that in do­ing so, you re­ceive far more than you give. It has been an ex­traor­di­nar­ily mean­ing­ful ex­pe­ri­ence to join an or­ga­ni­za­tion whose pur­pose is so no­ble and whose cause is so great. I am priv­i­leged to lead over 300,000 com­mit­ted pro­fes­sion­als who are serv­ing our veter­ans, the men and women who served our coun­try in uni­form.

The re­cent chal­lenges in the VA health­care sys­tem have re­ceived much at­ten­tion. Among the most daunt­ing is the short­age of health­care pro­fes­sion­als in the Veter­ans Health Ad­min­is­tra­tion. We have nearly 41,000 va­can­cies— close to 1 in 6 po­si­tions are un­filled. With so many va­cant po­si­tions, it’s dif­fi­cult to fix our ac­cess is­sues and con­tinue to make the progress needed in other ar­eas.

To ef­fec­tively tackle the is­sues fac­ing the VHA, we must start by iden­ti­fy­ing and hir­ing more of the right lead­ers. We cur­rently have ex­ec­u­tive open­ings at ap­prox­i­mately 25% of our med­i­cal cen­ters and re­gional net­works.

The VA seeks ex­pe­ri­enced health­care ex­ec­u­tives to join the tal­ented team of lead­ers al­ready serv­ing there to put in place pro­grams that will at­tract the best and bright­est. We need health­care lead­ers who know how to re­cruit and re­tain great employees. We need car­ing pro­fes­sion­als who want to make a pos­i­tive dif­fer­ence each day lead­ing our ded­i­cated health­care work­force and en­abling im­prove­ments across the spec­trum of care.

That’s why I am is­su­ing a chal­lenge to Amer­i­can health­care lead­ers: Come join us at an or­ga­ni­za­tion with the no­blest mis­sion in the fed­eral gov­ern­ment.

Help us fill our lead­er­ship va­can­cies—ex­cep­tional lead­ers who will bring their ex­per­tise, ex­pe­ri­ence and in­dus­try best prac­tices to ac­cel­er­ate change and en­sure the VA re­mains a leader in Amer­i­can medicine.

Be­sides the amaz­ing work we do ev­ery day at more than 1,500 sites car­ing for Amer­ica’s Veter­ans, VA re­search has con­trib­uted greatly to im­prov­ing the lives of veter­ans and other Amer­i­cans alike.

The first suc­cess­ful liver trans­plants were per­formed in the VA sys­tem. VA re­searchers de­vel­oped the im­plantable car­diac pacemaker and cre­ated the nico­tine patch. We have made ma­jor ad­vances in pros­thet­ics, spinal cord in­jury, and trau­matic brain in­jury. Also, the VA has af­fil­i­a­tions with more than 1,800 ed­u­ca­tional in­sti­tu­tions and trains 120,000 health­care pro­fes­sion­als each year. More than 70% of all doc­tors in the U.S. have re­ceived train­ing in the VA health­care sys­tem. We all need and ben­e­fit from a strong VA.

Amer­i­can medicine is chang­ing, and the VA con­tin­ues to evolve as an in­te­grated health­care sys­tem, mod­ern­iz­ing pro­cesses and ca­pa­bil­i­ties to put the needs of veter­ans first. We are lay­ing the foun­da­tion for a new course for VA health­care. It’s called the New Veter­ans Choice Pro­gram and it en­vi­sions work­ing with the pub­lic and pri­vate sec­tors in an in­te­grated way to bet­ter serve veter­ans. In the plan we are now pre­sent­ing to Congress, we pro­pose a health­care sys­tem that co­or­di­nates care for veter­ans us­ing what the VA does best but not du­pli­cat­ing what the pri­vate sec­tor does best. To im­ple­ment this plan and re­al­ize our vi­sion, we need the help of those with ex­per­tise from the pri­vate sec­tor who will work closely with those al­ready in the VA.

The VA needs you, veter­ans need you, and your coun­try needs you. We are look­ing for ex­pe­ri­enced health­care lead­ers who are will­ing to serve those who have served all of us so well. I can as­sure you it will be the most re­ward­ing job you’ve ever had.

If you are in­ter­ested in ac­cept­ing our VA Lead­er­ship Chal­lenge, con­tact us at VALead­er­shipChal­lenge@va.gov.

Be­sides the amaz­ing work we do ev­ery day at more than 1,500 sites car­ing for Amer­ica’s Veter­ans, VA re­search has con­trib­uted greatly to im­prov­ing the lives of veter­ans and other Amer­i­cans alike.

Dr. David J. Shulkin is un­der­sec­re­tary for health at the U.S. Veter­ans Af­fairs Depart­ment

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