VA Leader Focusing on Patient-Centered Care

Tracy W. Gaudet, MD speaking at Bastyr graduation ceremony

Bastyr University is among the forerunners changing the face of health care across the nation, and Veterans Affairs (VA) is among the federal departments who are taking notice.

At the University’s 35th Annual Commencement Exercises, held in Seattle on June 20, 2016, principal speaker Tracy W. Gaudet, MD, took the stage to discuss the future of the health care sector and her own role in shaping that as executive director of the Veterans Affairs Office of Patient Centered Care and Cultural Transformation.

Under the direction of Dr. Gaudet, the office has made significant progress toward the VA’s goal for personalized, proactive and patient-driven health care for our nation’s veterans. This undertaking represents one of the largest evolutions in the philosophy and process for health care delivery ever undertaken by an organized health care system.

Dr. Gaudet joined the VA from Duke University Health System where she served as executive director of Duke Integrative Medicine. Prior to her work at Duke, she was the founding executive director of the University of Arizona Program in Integrative Medicine, and she co-founded the Academic Consortium for Integrative Medicine and Health.

Learn more about Dr. Gaudet’s path to integrative medicine in her own words in the following Q-and-A:

Q: Your name has come to be associated with “patient-centered care” – not only within Veterans Affairs, but in the field of medicine. Have you always had this interest, or was there a turning point in your career?

A: I’ve always been wired this way. Even early on, I did not feel at ease in conventional medical school. I ended up completing medical school in order to try to be a part of the solution, and chose Obstetrics and Gynecology as a field that I believed was more holistic in its approach. But if I would have known about naturopathic medicine then, I probably would have gone to naturopathic medical school.

Q: You’ve driven change at Duke Integrative Medicine, leading the creation of a new state-of-the-art health care facility; this after having helped to establish the University of Arizona’s Program in Integrative Medicine; and now you’re driving he VA’s new Center for Patient-Centered Care and Cultural Transformation. It’s almost as if you’re brought in when things need to change! What have you observed about how to effectively drive cultural change within systems, large and small?

A: The health care system is doing exactly what it was designed to – to diagnose and treat disease. It’s the culture that must change. And what is culture? Culture is behavior that is based on two things: experience and incentives; both must be impacted in order for culture to change. Experience happens when patients exemplify behavior – they get well and they talk about it; and incentives come from financial motivation, and our values.

When everything is breaking down, there’s big opportunity for change. That’s the amazing thing about NDs – they are what the nation needs now.

Q: Tell me about some advancements in this field that make you proud.

A: I see evidence for optimism when I look at Bastyr University; the path of Bastyr speaks to cultural readiness. And I see evidence for optimism when I look at the VA system: It is the largest health care system in the nation, and it has the vision to transform to a whole health philosophy.

Everybody is calling for this! The Department of Defense is now saying: ‘What we need is health. Population health.’ And the ‘how’ is people being trained through places like Bastyr University.

Q: What do you envision? If anything were possible within the nation’s health care system, what would it look like?

A: The mainstay of health care will become health and well-being centers, which will refer to clinics and hospitals as needed.

We can’t afford not to take care of people’s health anymore.


Learn more about Tracy M. Gaudet, MD, in Bastyr University’s commencement announcement.