Nation’s Medical Schools and Teaching Hospitals Stand Ready to Address Gaps in VA Health Care

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Washington, D.C., July 17, 2014—In conjunction with a briefing on Capitol Hill about physician shortages at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), AAMC (Association of American Medical Colleges) President and CEO Darrell G. Kirch, M.D., issued the following statement:

“Today’s briefing laid out important information for members of the congressional conference committee considering legislation to alleviate delays experienced by veterans seeking care at the VA.  As lawmakers seek final agreement on a measure to help improve veterans’ access to health care services, key provisions should include expedited contracting with non-VA providers, timely reimbursement for services, and expanded support for VA and Medicare graduate medical education (GME) to help address growing physician shortages.

Meanwhile, the nation’s medical schools and teaching hospitals stand ready to work with the VA to help ensure that America’s veterans get the health care they need and deserve. Already, more than 160 AAMC member-medical schools, teaching hospitals, and faculty physician groups have told us they have the capacity to help once the VA determines what services are needed and how they can most effectively and efficiently provide that care.

Affiliations between the VA and America’s teaching hospitals and medical schools date back to the end of WWII. What started as a simple idea in a time of great need has developed into an unprecedented private-public partnership grounded in our shared missions of research, education, and—most importantly—patient care. Affiliations between the VA and academic medicine have made the agency an integral component of residency training for the nation’s physicians. Currently, 127 VA facilities have affiliation agreements for physician training with 130 of the AAMC’s 141 member-medical schools. Seventy percent of VA physicians have a faculty appointment at a medical school, and in 2013, more than one-third of all resident physicians completed clinical training at a VA facility, and many medical school faculty members also provided care at these centers.

Through these existing affiliations and potential new ones, AAMC members have the capacity to expand the health care services they already provide to veterans, but the VA, and the nation in general, must grow our physician workforce.

The situation at VA medical centers is a warning sign of a deeper problem—a nationwide shortage of doctors, from primary care to specialists. The AAMC projects a shortage of 45,000 primary care physicians and 46,000 surgeons and medical specialists by 2020. Medical schools have done their part by increasing enrollments. Unfortunately, Congress capped the number of Medicare-supported residency training positions in 1997 and, unless there are more residency positions, these new M.D.s will not be able to complete their training and practice independently.

Medical schools and teaching hospitals look forward to working with the VA to provide timely care for the nation’s veterans. We urge Congress to act quickly to address this critical situation now through expanded care, and in the future through additional residency training positions.”

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The Association of American Medical Colleges is a not-for-profit association representing all 141 accredited U.S. and 17 accredited Canadian medical schools; nearly 400 major teaching hospitals and health systems, including 51 Department of Veterans Affairs medical centers; and nearly 90 academic and scientific societies. Through these institutions and organizations, the AAMC represents 128,000 faculty members, 83,000 medical students, and 110,000 resident physicians. Additional information about the AAMC and U.S. medical schools and teaching hospitals is available at www.aamc.org/newsroom

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