Know Thyself: Questions for Those Considering a VA Residency

By Jamie Zeman, DC

I am often asked by other providers and veterans why I chose to continue my clinical and professional chiropractic education within the Veterans Affairs (VA) healthcare system. As the largest healthcare system in the U.S., opportunities for professional growth within the VA are endless. As a new practitioner, VA is a great place to expand your comfort zone, gain experience in integrative care, grow confidence in complex and chronic health conditions, and gain exposure to a variety of clinical settings, as well as didactic and research opportunities.

I strongly encourage those currently in schools affiliated with VA training sites to apply for a VA clerkship during the clinical phase of their education, as it would provide an opportunity for firsthand experience in working with this special population and how the VA healthcare system operates.

When considering applying for a chiropractic residency it may be helpful to answer the following questions:

Where do you see yourself in one year?

The VA chiropractic residency is a great opportunity for those interested in continuing education with intention to practice in an integrative environment. Residents are trained to be clinicians, researchers and educators.

What are your goals for this program?

The resident schedule varies between patient encounters and treatment, continuing online didactic coursework, and inter-professional development with frequent rotation through other clinics. Residents are continuously evaluated by mentors, track and reflect on their progress, and set goals for future growth. The residency is a rigorous program and full-time position, those applying should consider the time commitment and dedication needed to be successful and meet program objectives.

Are you willing to relocate for a year, accept a resident salary, and no guarantee of job placement following the completion of the program?

Currently there are only five residency sites. I found relocating from Iowa to New York for my residency to be a great experience so far, and I am glad I made the trip.

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In addition, here are some common questions (with answers) I have been asked about the VA residency program:

Q: How do I know which program site to apply for?

A: There is a saying: “If you have been to one VA, you have been to one VA.” All VA chiropractic residencies meet the same national standards, yet each program is unique in its clinic setting, practice style, research opportunities and resident rotations. You can learn more about each residency site by viewing the webinar and report of the residency program at Reaching out to the current and past resident during my application process was helpful in learning about each site.

Q: What is the daily life of the resident like?

A: Residents are trained to be excellent clinicians, educators and researchers. Residents are monitored closely at the start of the program by mentors and generally are allotted more autonomy as the program progresses. Here are my objectives with the Canandaigua residency:

  • Scholarly – Two online classes in Geriatrics and Statistic with weekly assignments through New York Chiropractic College.
  • Didactic – Design, propose, and execute a research project based on my own area of interest.
  • Weekly resident conference calls – Share experiences, new research, and guest lectures.
  • Patient Care – Four clinical days per week, split between the Rochester and Canandaigua clinics working with three supervising chiropractors, two student clerks on a trimester rotation, and NYCC students in clinical rotation.
  • Interdisciplinary – About one observation per week with various clinics including Acupuncture, Chronic Pain, Interventional Anesthesia, Neurology, Neurosurgery, Occupational Therapy, Orthopedics, Physical Therapy, PM&R, Primary Care, Prosthetics, Psychology, Radiology, Rheumatology, Spinal Cord Injury and Traumatic Brain Injury.

Q: Do you have any tips for the application process?

A: The application process goes very quick once applications open on the second Monday of each January. I found reading the ACA three-part blog series “How to Apply for a Chiropractic Residency in the VA” to be very helpful.  Have your resume ready to go by early January, know who you will be asking for your letters of recommendation, and be sure to give them a heads up before the process begins. Be aware that each of the five sites must be applied to separately, including submission of letters of recommendation. Pay special attention to the requirements of the application, these are strictly enforced.

Q: What are your state license requirements working as a resident?

A: As I work in a federal position, as long as I carry a valid state license I can work at a federal location in any state. I am currently licensed through Iowa, and practice in New York. Also, as a government employee protected under the Federal Tort Claims Act, I do not have to carry additional malpractice insurance.

Q: How is the residency in Canandaigua going so far for you?

A: It can be challenging with lots of time commitment, but I can’t imagine the type of clinician I would be without it. I think clinicians are great mentors, open to questions, concerns and are really invested in seeing their students, clerks, and their resident succeed. Both clinics I work in have their own personalities, and I see a variety of complex patient presentations on a daily basis. The clinical rotations I have been exposed to so far have been very open to having a chiropractor observing and I have been able to answer lots of questions about chiropractic care.

Dr. Zeman is the current chiropractic resident at the Canandaigua VA Medical Center in Canandaigua, N.Y., working with program director Paul Dougherty, DC