Difficult Conversations Podcast

Lessons I Learned as an ICU Physician

Episode 112 | October 6, 2020

Caring for Our Veterans

Dr. David Shulkin

Ninth Secretary, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

David Shulkin

Welcome to Difficult Conversations- Lessons I Learned as an ICU Physician with Dr. Anthony Orsini. This week my extra special guest is the Honorable Dr. David Shulkin, who is currently CEO of Shulkin Solutions. Dr. Shulkin was the Ninth Secretary of the US Dept of Veteran Affairs, nominated by President Trump to serve his cabinet. Dr. Shulkin was the only cabinet member of President Trump that was confirmed unanimously by the US Senate. Prior to serving as Secretary of the VA, he served as Under Secretary for Health under President Obama for which we was also confirmed unanimously. As Secretary of Veterans Affairs, Dr. Shulkin represented 21 million American veterans and was responsible for the nation’s largest integrated healthcare system with over 1,200 sites of care, serving over 9 million Veterans. Prior to coming to the VA, Secretary Shulkin was a widely respected healthcare executive having served as Chief Executive of leading hospitals and health systems such as Beth Israel in New York City and Morristown Medical Center in New Jersey, which is where Dr. Orsini first met him. He has also been named as Top 100 Most Influential People in American Healthcare by Modern Healthcare. Dr. Shulkin recently published a book that we’re going to be talking about today called, It Shouldn’t Be This Hard to Serve Your Country: Our Broken Government and the Plight of Veterans. Dr. Orsini keeps his promise about two things, that you will feel inspired, and you will have learned valuable lessons to be a better and more compassionate communicator.

Dr. Orsini mentions his first encounter with Dr. Shulkin, and remembered how genuine, down to earth, extremely friendly, and very engaging he was. We find out what made Dr. Shulkin attracted to medicine and what led him into the leadership pathway. Dr. Shulkin tells us the single most difficult type of conversation that he has had, and he gives us advice on his approach to communicating bad news. There are so many problems with medical education training right now with communication, and Dr. Shulkin shares with us how we can fix this. Dr. Shulkin’s dedication in his book impressed Dr. Orsini. Dr. Shulkin talks about his father, who was a psychiatrist on an Army base, and how it influenced him. We learn about the circumstances that occurred when Dr. Shulkin took on his new position as Under Secretary at the VA in 2015, and what he realized he had in front of him with the enormous wait times issues that were happening. Also, we find how he fixed the issue so quickly.

Since he served with both President Trump and President Obama, we find out how he was able to navigate through two very different environments and succeed at it. Dr. Shulkin has been called the “Champion of Patient Experience ” and he shares with us how he was able to help Secretary McDonald start the Patient Experience Program at the VA. Telemedicine is discussed and whether or not it’s here to stay or if we keep doing more and more Telemedicine, if we’re going to miss that patient relationship. In closing, Dr. Shulkin shares with us what he is most proud of career wise. If you enjoyed this podcast, please hit the subscribe button to find out more about what we do and how we teach communication. Go ahead and download this episode now!

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Dr. Anthony Orsini


Dr. David Shulkin

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