This year, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and medical schools across the country are marking 75 years of academic affiliations. The first of these mutually beneficial partnerships was forged at Northwestern University after the end of World War II by Paul Magnuson, MD, then chair of the Department of Bone and Joint Surgery. Today, the VA partners with 144 LCME-accredited medical schools (and a total of 1,800 educational institutions), including Feinberg at the Jesse Brown VA Medical Center.
After the war ended in May 1945, thousands of wounded U.S. service men and women came back home to heal. The timing wasn’t ideal — the Veterans Administration was in the midst of a doctor shortage. Magnuson came up with a novel idea: Staff VA hospitals with medical school faculty and resident trainees.
On January 3, 1946, President Harry S. Truman signed a law authorizing the creation of the VA Department of Medicine and Surgery, the forerunner of the Veterans Health Administration. A few weeks later, the new department set into motion the establishment of academic affiliations, and Northwestern’s affiliation with the VA quickly became the blueprint. (To learn more about this, visit the VA’s Office of Academic Affiliations website and watch a video about academic affiliations created by Jesse Brown.) By 1948, 60 of the country’s medical schools had affiliated with VA hospitals. These relationships would forever change the health of the nation by providing the highest quality of care to veterans, shaping the next generation of physicians, and advancing research discoveries.
“We are incredibly proud that this important and enduring partnership — which ensures military veterans receive the care they deserve for their service and sacrifice while our students and trainees have the opportunity to sharpen their skills and broaden their knowledge — started here at Northwestern,” says Eric G. Neilson, MD, vice president for Medical Affairs and Lewis Landsberg Dean.
Decades of Unwavering Partnership
On January 4, 1946, 56 medical residents from Northwestern and University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) began clinical rotations at the Edward Hines, Jr. VA Hospital in Maywood, Illinois, the site of the VA’s first academic affiliations. Faculty members from both institutions served as attending physicians.
In the 1950s, Northwestern’s partnership with the VA grew stronger with the opening of a new Veterans Administration Research Hospital that occupied a city block steps from the Chicago campus.
Later, the hospital affiliated with Northwestern. Serving as a key clinical education and research facility for students, residents, and fellows, the VA changed the name of the hospital in 1975, first to VA Lakeside Hospital and, later, to VA Lakeside Medical Center. For many years, scores of medical school faculty provided high-quality — often subsidized — care to a deserving and diverse veteran population at Lakeside.
In 2003, the VA shifted inpatient services from Lakeside to its West Side campus hospital, which it began to modernize into the 21st century 220-bed facility it is today. In 2004, the West Side medical center near UIC was renamed Jesse Brown VA Medical Center in honor of the late Jesse Brown, a wounded Marine Corps veteran and U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs under President Bill Clinton. VA Lakeside was torn down in 2009, but the Lakeside VA Clinic still provides primary care — including mental health — services.
Despite the change of venue, the Feinberg School of Medicine’s commitment to the VA academic partnership never wavered.
“VA hospitals attract physicians equally passionate about caring for veterans and teaching trainees,” says Andrea Birnbaum, MD, PhD, associate chief of staff for education at Jesse Brown and associate professor of Ophthalmology at Feinberg. “We have an amazing medical staff at Jesse Brown, and many of them are from Northwestern.”
HONORING SERVICE WITH SERVICE
At Feinberg, VA rotations are integrated into the medical school curriculum. Internal medicine and surgery clerkships introduce many future physicians to veteran care and the VA health system. The McGaw Medical Center of Northwestern University features about 25 residency and fellowship programs with rotations at veteran’s hospitals and clinics. They run the gamut from addiction psychiatry and dermatology to ophthalmology, general surgery, and urology.
During the 2019–20 academic year, about 195 Feinberg medical students and 438 McGaw Medical Center of Northwestern University residents and fellows received their clinical education and training at Jesse Brown.
“The VA is incredibly supportive of our trainees,” says Joshua Goldstein, MD, senior associate dean for graduate medical education at Feinberg. “For our trainees, caring for veterans is an important mission. It’s an honor. Veterans have served our country, and we want to serve our veterans.”
ENABLING GROUNDBREAKING SCIENTIFIC DISCOVERY
While the delivery of quality clinical care prompted Northwestern’s academic affiliation 75 years ago, it also opened the door to cooperative research studies with the VA that have greatly advanced medicine. Northwestern alumni and faculty have played a significant role in some of the VA’s groundbreaking discoveries.
Of Jesse Brown’s 80 active principal investigators today, 21 are from Feinberg. Currently, 11 medical school faculty members are supported by VA merit awards for 14 research projects, from better understanding the molecular mechanisms of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease to identifying new epigenetic targets in ovarian cancer stem cells.
To celebrate 75 years of academic affiliation with the VA, the medical school has published a website: 75 Years of VA Partnership.
Historic images courtesy of Galter Health Sciences Library & Learning Center, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.