8 things to know about Trump's VA secretary nominee Dr. David Shulkin

President-elect Donald Trump said he plans to nominate David Shulkin, MD, to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs.

"I think you'll be very impressed with the job he does," Mr. Trump said Wednesday at his first formal press conference since July. "We looked long and hard — we interviewed at least 100 people, some good, some not so good. But we had a lot of talent. And we think this selection will be something that will, with time, straighten it [the VA] out and straighten it out for good."

Here are eight things to know about Dr. Shulkin.

1. Dr. Shulkin already has experience leading the VA's medical operations. He currently serves as under secretary for health at the VA. He was appointed to this position by President Barack Obama and confirmed by the Senate in June 2015, amid the ongoing challenge to address major wait time issues within the agency's health system. In this role, Dr. Shulkin is chief of the Veterans Health Administration and oversees a $60 billion organization that employs more than 300,000 people and provides care to roughly 9 million veterans each year. Dr. Shulkin also still practices medicine at the VA center in Manhattan.

2. During his time at the VA, Dr. Shulkin has made moves to cut down wait times and make same-day appointments a reality across the organization. In April 2016, he led the launch of MyVA Access, an initiative that aims to give veterans more control of how and when they receive healthcare. This included the launch of a smartphone app for veterans to view, schedule and cancel appointments, which was set to roll out systemwide this month. It also included a pilot website that allows veterans to see wait times at centers in real time. The initiative is part of a larger effort called MyVA, which was introduced in 2014 to transform the VA into a patient-centered organization. The VA pledged to offer same day appointments for primary care and mental health at all medical centers by the end of 2016. The VA has not announced if this goal has been met.

3. He supports integrating the VA system with private-sector providers. Writing for The New England Journal of Medicine last March, Dr. Shulkin outlined this potential model of healthcare delivery. "Partnerships with federal and community healthcare providers may result in better access and broader capabilities than simply relying on the VA's internal capabilities and current infrastructure — especially given that we expect the need for ambulatory services to increase in the future, while the need for acute inpatient medical, surgical and rehabilitation services decreases," he wrote.

4. Dr. Shulkin also wants to update the VA's IT system and move to the cloud. Last June, he told the Senate the agency is looking for a commercial, off-the-shelf replacement for its VistA EHR. At that time a VA spokesperson told Politico the agency plans to keep its EHR until 2018 and then start moving to a cloud-based platform. In August, the VA issued a request for information seeking feedback and guidance on transitioning to a commercial, off-the-shelf EHR platform.

5. Dr. Shulkin also has experience in leading health system turnarounds in the private sector. He was president and CEO of New York City-based Beth Israel Medical Center from 2005 to 2009, where he is credited with leading a $1.3 billion financial turnaround and rebuild of the organization. From 2010 to 2015, he served as president of Morristown (N.J.) Medical Center and its Goryeb Children's Hospital and Atlantic Rehabilitation Institute, all of which are part of Morristown, N.J.-based Atlantic Health System. Dr. Shulkin was also instrumental in launching the system's ACO — the Atlantic ACO — and served as president during his tenure with the health system. 

6. Dr. Shulkin is board-certified in internal medicine. He earned his medical degree from the Medical College of Pennsylvania, now part of Philadelphia-based Drexel University College of Medicine. He completed his internship at Yale University School of Medicine in New Haven, Conn., and his residency and fellowship at the University of Pittsburgh Presbyterian Medical Center. Dr. Shulkin completed advanced training at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, where he studied outcomes research and economics as the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Clinical Scholar. He is also a fellow of the American College of Physicians.  

7. Dr. Shulkin does not have a military background. Though this is not required of VA secretaries, Dr. Shulkin, if confirmed, will be the first non-veteran to lead the department, according to the Military Times. Dr. Shulkin did have a military upbringing, however. He was born on an Army base and his father was an Army psychiatrist, according to the Military Times.

8. Dr. Shulkin's nomination has garnered early praise, despite his lack of military experience. Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America founder and CEO Paul Rieckhoff said in a statement, "Our membership overwhelmingly supported the selection of a veteran for this critical leadership position." However, he added, "Dr. Shulkin's service as under secretary is respected by the entire veterans community. He is a committed leader and is our best hope among candidates reported in the media to maintain the momentum created by Secretary McDonald to reform the VA."

House VA Chairman Phil Roe, R-Tenn., praised the choice Wednesday. "I am pleased President-elect Trump has chosen a physician to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs, especially one familiar with the integrating of private practitioners into the VA's network of healthcare providers," Rep. Roe said, according to Politico.

His former colleagues lauded the nomination as well. "I was very enthusiastic when I saw the news, and greatly encouraged to see that a physician has been nominated to lead services for our nation's veterans," Brian Gragnolati, president and CEO of Atlantic Health System, said in an emailed statement. "I have known David Shulkin for many years, and worked with him directly here at Atlantic Health System. He has the tenacity, knowledge and passion to affect meaningful change. I know that his experience and success as under secretary of health at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs will serve him well as he continues his vital work to support our veterans."

 

Note: This article was udpated Jan. 12, 2016 at 10:00 a.m. CT to include the statement from Mr. Gragnolati and update information about Dr. Shulkin's work with Atlantic Health System. This article previously stated he was president and CEO of Morristown Medical Center before he served at Beth Israel Medical Center. This is incorrect. Dr. Shulkin worked at Morristown Medical Center after Beth Israel Medical Center.

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