A desire to serve those who have served our nation led two recent graduates of the College of Chiropractic at Cleveland University-Kansas City (CUKC) to pursue programs with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Dr. Melissa Hirschman was recently selected by the VA for a one-year residency at the St. Louis VA hospital, and in December 2020, Dr. Peter Albright concluded a four-month clerkship at the Tennessee Valley Healthcare System (TVHS) at the Nashville, Tenn. VA hospital.
A 2020 graduate of CUKC, Hirschman was selected for one of only 10 chiropractic residency positions in the nation offered each year by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. The post-doctorate training program has strict learning objectives, and allows those selected to offer chiropractic care in an integrated healthcare environment, under the guidance of VA chiropractors, while collaborating with a variety of other health providers.
During interdisciplinary rotations, the residents are able to learn with and from other providers in various primary and specialty care circumstances, including medical, surgical, mental health and rehabilitative situations. Expanding their knowledge of a hospital practice environment, along with the policies and procedures common to that setting, will be beneficial to the residents should they seek employment with the VA, another healthcare institution, or perhaps in an academic environment. In addition, residents also participate in scholarly activities while completing the program.
Because of the limited number of offerings, the competition to secure one of the residency positions is intense, and the selection process is lengthy. Applicants who are accepted are matched with a VA facility to complete their residency.
The initial shock of being selected has subsided, and Hirschman has embraced with great anticipation what lies ahead for her over the next year. She will begin her residency July 1.
“I’m excited to complete rotations with different departments in the hospital like neurosurgery and mental health,” Hirschman said. “I’m also looking forward to the mentorship and guidance from the chiropractors and department that I will be working in. Another thing that I’m looking forward to is participating in and completing research that will continue to advance the chiropractic profession.”
Hirschman is only the third College of Chiropractic student from CUKC to be selected for the VA residency program. She was preceded by Dr. Leah Hutchison, and Dr. Benjamin Liang who graduated in 2017, and 2012 respectively. Liang was the first chiropractic resident ever at the Greater Los Angeles VA, and was one of the original five that started the program.
This will not be Hirschman’s first exposure to a VA hospital environment. She was chosen for a VA clerkship while she was in school at CUKC, and that experience helped to shape her professional path.
“Veterans are an amazing population of patients to work with, and the VA is a great place to work as a chiropractor,” Hirschman said. “I have kept in contact with the VA chiropractors I worked under in Kansas City, as well as in Omaha; they were all so supportive and encouraging.”
It was Hirschman’s clerkship that led her to pursue the residency, and for those who wish to serve our nation’s veterans while broadening their professional knowledge, the clerkship is a solid first step to consider. Dr. Peter Albright, also a 2020 CUKC graduate, did exactly that. He was the first from CUKC to be selected for a clerkship at the VA TVHS in Nashville during the fall of 2020.
Those chosen for the clerkship program are typically in the final year of chiropractic college and have entered their institution’s clinic system. Participants may take part in a wide range of activities, from shadowing various specialty clinics, to a focus on direct student-patient clinical care. There are approximately 60 VA clerkship opportunities available each year, and the duration is typically four months.
The shorter clerkship program is less intensive than the residency, but it’s also highly sought after, and delivers a similarly valuable learning experience. For that reason, the VA encourages those interested in a residency to first complete the clerkship program.
While in Tennessee, Albright was immersed in hospital-based chiropractic care. He worked closely with a “preceptor” doctor, a licensed doctor of chiropractic who serves as a mentor to those who participate in the program.
Albright was in good company, as fellow CUKC alum, Hutchison, was his preceptor. A U.S. Air Force veteran, she completed her chiropractic residency in 2018 at the Western New York VA Hospital in Buffalo, N.Y.
“The most awesome thing was the people I worked with and the support I received, especially from my preceptor,” Albright said. “I was treated as a respected member of the health care team from day one.”
Initially, Albright only shadowed Hutchison, but over time he became more involved including assisting with new patient consultations, and eventually providing chiropractic care to patients under her supervision. In addition, he participated in clinical rotations with rheumatology, neurology and primary care. He was also able to shadow at other VA sites in Tennessee.
Albright learned about the VA’s “Whole Health” initiative, which is an integrated health model being initiated at all VA hospitals and clinics. He was able to see teams that included chiropractors, physical therapists, and acupuncturist working together for the greater good of the patients. It was positive for him to see chiropractic playing such an integral role in the health care process.
“I’ve also always been interested in functional medicine, and I see chiropractic care as a component of whole health care,” Albright said. “Therefore, it made perfect sense to me that chiropractors should be included in integrated health care so we can collaborate with other healthcare professionals to provide the best patient care possible, and address all of their healthcare needs.”
Albright hopes to deepen his knowledge of hospital-based chiropractic through a VA residency. An additional year to absorb more about VA healthcare will allow him to build on what he learned during his clerkship.
“This experience boosted my confidence, made me a better doctor, and established my role as a clinician,” Albright said. “I now consider myself a chiropractic physician.”
Participation in these VA programs allows former CUKC students like Hirschman and Albright to broaden their professional competency in a positive environment. Their selection for these coveted positions shows they are ready to be the difference in healthcare.