Vital Signs Blog

Few doctors want to work for VA: survey

The findings of a new survey shed some more light on why reforming the Veterans Affairs Department health system may be more difficult than first imagined.

In addition to (and maybe because of) all the other problems the system is facing, a recent survey by a Dallas-based physician recruiter, the Medicus Firm, found that few doctors want to work for the VA.

In its 11th annual Practice Preference and Relocation Survey, Medicus found that only 2.5% of practicing physicians and 1.9% of physicians in training found government or military employment a desirable practice setting.

Medicus President Jim Stone told Forbes that doctors feel that the VA is “in the hands of bureaucrats and administrators instead of clinicians and providers.”

“It's uncertain what specifically causes respondents to prefer other options,” Stone told Modern Healthcare. “We hear many firsthand accounts of practice settings from hundreds of doctors we interview as part of our role as recruiters, including from physicians who have worked at VA facilities. And, while interesting, those are anecdotal accounts that may or may not apply to the entire system.”

A little more than 28% of the more than 2,200 doctors surveyed in April and May said single-specialty groups were the most-desired practice setting, followed by hospitals at 23%. But many doctors just reported being unhappy—23% said they would not choose to be a physician if they could start their careers over. Also, emergency medicine physicians, hospitalists, neurologists and psychiatrists reported flat or declining income.

Meanwhile, some 57,000 veterans new to the VA system have had to wait up to three months to see a doctor after requesting an appointment. Also 63,000 veterans already in the system are facing long waits as well. The American Medical Association recently called on President Barack Obama to take immediate action to reduce the backlog.

The House and Senate have both passed bills that would allow veterans to get care outside the VA that the government would pay for, and leaders in both chambers are working to reconcile differences between their bills. They say they want to have a final bill on the president's desk before July 7.

The AMA also called on state and local medical societies and VA organizations to create registries of physicians who were willing to provide more immediate access to veterans. The Medical Society of the State of New York and the Texas Medical Association are among two organizations that are doing so.

“There are 13 VA medical centers and 49 clinics in New York state and our physicians statewide are ready to help all of them,” Dr. Andrew Kleinman, president of the New York society, said in a news release. “Many New York physicians in all specialties have already reached out to our medical society to offer their services to our veterans. In the meantime, the VA should relax its rules about treatment outside of the VA system so that every veteran is treated in the timely and respectful manner that they so deserve.”

The Texas Medical Association has created an online enrollment form for doctors in the state who want to join the effort.

“I'm saddened that our veterans have been forced to wait for the healthcare they need and deserve,” Dr. Austin King, TMA president, said in a news release. “So until the VA can solve this problem, I, like many other Texas physicians, want to help care for them.”

At the AMA House of Delegates meeting last week in Chicago, Dr. David McKalip, a St. Petersburg, Fla., neurosurgeon, recommended that the president divert nonhealthcare funds to the VA Fee Basis program which provides care for veterans at facilities outside the VA system.

Follow Andis Robeznieks on Twitter: @MHARobeznieks


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