Dr. Neil Patel serves as the clinical chief of Emergency Medicine at the VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System. In his nine-year tenure at VA, Dr. Patel has taken advantage of the wide range of extra opportunities for physicians to advance in their careers. As a clinician who also educates trainees and serves as an administrator, Dr. Patel is able to impact emergency medicine practices at VA and improve the health of Veterans in need of acute care services.
In this installment of our #ChooseVALeadership Careers blog series, Dr. Patel shares his reasons for serving at VA and why other emergency medicine physician trainees should consider a career caring for Veterans.
What was appealing about a career at VA?
VA lets me practice medicine without undue attention being paid to billing practices, group politics and defensive medicine.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
The ability to care for folks who have said they are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice and who, in many instances, need an array of services to resolve complex service-related diagnoses.
How has VA helped you grow in your career?
When I first accepted a career with VA, it was with the intention to grow my skills as a clinical educator. Through circumstance, I became more involved in administration. VA gave me a unique opportunity to shape Veterans Health Administration emergency medicine in a way that better aligned with both patient and provider needs. I was also given the opportunity to recruit a stellar team of emergency medicine physicians who I have the exceptional pleasure of working with on a daily basis.
Can you cite a few key benefits of working at VA?
I could go on forever! Stable employment, well-defined retirement benefits, great work-life balance and paid leave, to start off with. But the true benefit of a VA career is the opportunity to grow your clinical and extra-clinical skill sets through opportunities in education, administration and research.
What do you find most surprising about working at VA?
The sheer number of extra-clinical opportunities available to VA clinicians. One can teach courses at the university affiliate, take advantage of the Health Care Leadership Development Program, become trained in lean process methodology and engage in systems-level engineering of clinical programs. The list goes on and on!
What story do you most often tell people about your work at VA?
Working at VA is in many ways similar to working at a county hospital. There’s limited ancillary support and providers have to be self-sufficient to thrive. However, unlike typical county hospitals, VA has access to unimaginable resources. It just requires tenacity and a bit of imagination to bring those resources to the bedside.
What would you tell other emergency medicine healthcare professionals who are interested in choosing a career at VA?
Given the lack of pediatric exposure, limited trauma volume and a mostly male patient population, VA may seem like an atypical place to practice emergency medicine — and it is — but it does an excellent job of making a career in emergency medicine sustainable. It has all the tools needed to prevent physician burnout. For physicians who are mission-oriented and committed to giving back to our nation’s Veterans, VA is an amazing opportunity.
What else would you like us to know about your experiences as a VA emergency healthcare professional?
To be honest, when I first signed up with VA right out of residency, my intention was to have a job where I could “wait it out” until my wife finished her training and I could move on to a “real” emergency department. However, I quickly came to see how the practice of medicine at VA is in many ways more “pure” in that it is centered on great clinical care rather than on financial or nonhealthcare concerns. The opportunity to serve those who sacrificed to ensure Americans’ access to opportunity and freedom is invaluable!
Choose VA today
Use your emergency medicine skills to care for Veterans as you pursue other career goals: Choose a VA career as a physician today.