Chiropractor Recognized as Clinician of the Year at Fargo VA Health System

American Chiropractic Association (ACA) member Kevin Bjorlie, DC, of Fargo, N.D., recently received the Fargo VA Health Care System’s 2022 Clinician of the Year Award. After many years of working to integrate chiropractic care into the VA system, Dr. Bjorlie says that this award feels like a recognition for the entire profession. “Truly, in my opinion, I don’t feel it was an award for an individual, I think it was an award for chiropractic,” he says. “When you think about people who laid the groundwork for this — our state associations, the ACA, working with legislative members to make this all happen — it was just exciting to show what chiropractic is capable of.”

Dr. Bjorlie

After graduating from Northwestern Health Sciences University, Dr. Bjorlie worked in Oregon before returning to his home state of North Dakota and opening his private practice in Fargo. As a member of the North Dakota Chiropractic Association, Dr. Bjorlie was involved in initial efforts to work with veterans in North Dakota. His efforts were not successful at first, but eventually the Veterans Administration (VA) showed an interest in chiropractic. “It was kind of that time with opioids being at a peak and a real problem for many people, as well as our veterans,” he explains. “They wanted to have an alternative for pain management and pain control.” Chiropractic turned out to be the perfect fit.

Dr. Bjorlie began his work at the Fargo VA in 2016 while also maintaining his private practice in Fargo. Since then, he has helped build chiropractic at the VA, which now employs five chiropractors in its Whole Health department and one in a community-based outreach clinic. “We get to practice our full scope of practice; it’s very encouraging,” Dr. Bjorlie says. “The chiropractic portion of the VA is the No. 1 requested service line here at the Fargo VA.”

A desire to work in an integrated care system is one of the most important things chiropractors should have if they’re considering a VA position, he says. He and the other VA chiropractors work closely with their fellow providers in the Whole Health department, which includes acupuncturists, yoga instructors, massage therapists, nutritionists, health coaching and more. They also work with providers in other departments to ensure that each veteran receives the best care possible. “We’re able to integrate what we do as chiropractors and make that work with medical doctors, other physicians, pain management — it’s the full circle of health care,” Dr. Bjorlie says. “I think the veterans benefit the most from all of it, and they’re very appreciative of this kind of a system.”

This integrated approach is especially beneficial for veterans who are looking for an alternative to prescription pain medication. “Many veterans just don’t want to be taking medications and drugs to cover up their pain. So that’s where we come in,” Dr. Bjorlie says.

Kimberly Sklebar, DNP, RN, who nominated Dr. Bjorlie for the Clinician of the Year Award, said in her nomination: “[Dr. Bjorlie’s] practice panel is treating the most challenging chronic pain veterans and he has been an integral part in sustaining veterans on lower opioid doses and/or eliminating opioids.”

Integrated care also benefits the physicians themselves, allowing them to collaborate on complex cases and learn from each other. Within the VA, Dr. Bjorlie has access to all of the records for each veteran he treats, and he’s able to get questions answered quickly if he needs input from another provider in the VA. “Learning from some of these very complicated cases, it tests the skills that we learn throughout chiropractic college and gets all of our education incorporated into figuring out and understanding that whole picture together, with regard to the patient.”

Interns have even been able to take advantage of the Fargo VA’s collaborative care approach. Dr. Bjorlie says that chiropractic students get the full experience, following providers in internal medicine, radiology, acupuncture and other disciplines to see what they do.

The VA’s integrated approach allows doctors to build relationships with the veterans they treat, which Dr. Bjorlie says is particularly rewarding. “You get to know these veterans, working with them, hearing what they’ve been through and how they’re coming back,” he says. “It’s really special to be part of that, to be part of the team.”

Cassie LaJeunesse is an associate in the ACA Department of Branding and Communications.