Veteran Affairs Quality Scholars (VAQS)

The Veteran Affairs Quality Scholars VAQS program began in the late 1990's and has been recognized as one of the most comprehensive and established quality improvement (QI) training programs. The program runs for two years and is designed to nurture fellows and junior faculty and allow them to develop a career in research, in QI and health services, or in QI within the framework of a position in medical administration, education, or clinical practice. The VAQS program is intended for healthcare professionals in advanced stages of training or junior faculty who would like to pursue careers in quality improvement.

The VAQS program is designed using a 'hub and spoke' model. The program centre now exists at Baylor University Medical School where faculty run the program and work in direct partnership with the Veteran Affairs (VA) Office of Academic Affiliations, which oversees all special fellowship programs in VA. There are eight other sites (spokes) in different geographic locations across the United States. Toronto is the ninth (and only non-American) site for the VAQS program.  

The two-year VAQS fellowship is comprised of five components:

  • Twenty-five separate two-way interactive videoconference sessions. Here in Toronto, these sessions occur at the downtown location of the Centre for Quality Improvement and Patient Safety. Each site will have fellows and occasionally other academic clinicians participate with required readings and presentations.These interactive videoconference sessions typically occur every second Friday afternoon from 1pm-4pm.
  • Half-day group meetings (on the alternating Friday afternoons when there is not a videoconference session) to discuss QI projects.
  • Face-to-face meetings at the VAQS Summer Institute in Vermont (in August), the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI) National Forum in Orlando (early December), and the VA Health Services Research and Development annual meeting.
  • Project design and development. Fellows should build a portfolio of knowledge, skills and attitudes during their fellowship experience. The outcome of this work should be the development of competencies needed to promote the scholarship, research and practice of quality improvement.
  • Teaching of the improvement of healthcare. This would ideally be in the fellow’s area of clinical interest and be submitted for publication in a peer reviewed journal.

Who should consider the VAQS program?

VAQS is ideal for someone pursuing a career in clinical epidemiology or health services research with interests that relate to healthcare quality. A typical participant might be enrolled in a master's program in clinical epidemiology (or recently completed one) but want to learn some of the concepts and methods of quality improvement. The program also provides good networking opportunities for people who have taken or are enrolled in the MSc concentration in Quality Improvement and Patient Safety offered through IHPME . The networking involves participants and faculty at the eight US sites. 

For those planning to lead local QI activities or to do scholarly work that is driven more by innovations in health services delivery than by the evaluation of these innovations, then VAQS by itself is probably not the right choice. Occasionally, a  person who already has some expertise and track record in QI plus a mentor with QI expertise, it might work out as the only form of advanced training en route to a faculty appointment. But, for most people hoping to make a career out of QI, VAQS should just be a supplement  to other training in QI, such as a master’s degree with a core focus on quality improvement. 

Further details, including how to apply, can be found on the C-QuIPS website.