Benchmarking US Department of Veterans Affairs dermatologic services: Results from a national survey

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Abstract

Background:

How well Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) dermatology services provide clinical care, medical education, and innovative research is a largely unexplored topic in the literature.

Objective:

We sought to benchmark VA dermatology services by surveying VA dermatologists about their environment, resources, and the pros and cons of working in the VA.

Methods:

Printed surveys were mailed to VA dermatologists and responses were compiled and analyzed.

Results:

Of 105 dermatology services surveyed, 48% returned surveys completed by board-certified dermatologists (n = 50); 20 surveys completed by nondermatologists were excluded from the analysis. Most services trained dermatology residents (72%) and medical students (80%). One third of services reported significant research involvement. Qualitative analysis revealed the academic environment, patient population, and decreased business management responsibilities as the 3 most commonly cited advantages to VA employment. The most commonly listed disadvantages included low salaries, bureaucracy, and lack of resources.

Limitations:

The survey data were self-reported and not independently verified. Not all services returned the survey.

Conclusions:

Outpatient VA dermatology services accomplish significant primary care and preventive services (eg, sun safety counseling, skin cancer screening, and treatment). However, the small number of dedicated dermatology services, their irregular geographic distribution, and the lack of staffing and resources may adversely affect optimal patient care. Dermatologist responses regarding the positive and negative aspects of working in the VA system may lead to improved management strategies to better retain and recruit dermatologists to provide patient care, medical education, and medical research despite dramatically lower dermatologist salaries within the VA system compared with private practice.

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