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VA Quality Scholars Fellowship Program

Senior Faculty Scholars: Susan Diem, MD, MPH; Judith Pechacek, DNP, RN, CENP; Michele Spoont, PhD

VAQS Fellows

About the VA Quality Scholars Fellowship

The National VA Quality Scholars Program (VAQS) is a 2-year fellowship that is designed to train the next generation of health professionals to improve healthcare through innovations, quality improvement, and patient safety.  The fellowship is sponsored by the Department of Veterans Affairs and consists of eleven sites across the United States, as well as an affiliate site in Toronto, Canada. Each site in the US consists of a partnership between a VA hospital and an academic institution. The site in Minneapolis is based at the Minneapolis VA Healthcare System and the University of Minnesota.

The fellowship has an inter-professional emphasis with physicians, doctoral-trained nurses, clinical psychologists, and pharmacists as fellows and faculty. The Minneapolis site has particular expertise in quality innovations, systems redesign, high value care, program and outcomes evaluation, informatics, mental health research, health systems research, design thinking, executive leadership, and medical simulation.  

Fellows participate in the National Quality Scholars curriculum, a two-year healthcare improvement and leadership curriculum led by the VA Quality Scholars Coordinating Center at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center in Houston, Texas. In addition, all fellows are paired with a primary mentor, selected from senior faculty and investigators at the Minneapolis VA. They also participate in a site-based curriculum that includes leading QI projects and working with facility leadership.

Fellows may also have the opportunity to take coursework and complete certificate programs in Clinical Research and in Management Fundamentals in Health Care Organizations at the University of Minnesota’s School of Public Health.  

MD fellows receive at least 75% protected time for research and education and have opportunities for outpatient and inpatient clinical experiences at the Minneapolis VA Medical Center and for teaching within the UMN Medical School. Salary is based on PGY level.

Nurse Fellows who also possess APRN certification will have opportunities for outpatient and inpatient clinical experiences at the Minneapolis VA. Student Nurse Fellows will be provided protected time for their education/clinical experiences.   

Psychology fellows have at least 75% protected time for research and quality scholarship activities, with up to 25% time devoted to outpatient mental health services in numerous specialty clinics (for example PTSD, addictions, general mental health, serious and persistent mental illness, partial hospitalization, and psychological assessment). Research involvement is tailored to the interest and needs of the fellow and can be within or outside of the area of quality scholarship.

Who should apply?

The fellowship is available to physicians, doctoral level nurses, psychologists, pharmacists, and physical therapists. Candidates with an interest in quality or implementation research, healthcare leadership or education are encouraged to apply.

Application Requirements:


  • MD or equivalent
  • Active, unrestricted license to practice
  • U.S. citizenship or current appropriate visa

Doctoral level nurses

  • Accepted into a DNP or PhD program or completed a DNP or PhD program; priority given to University of Minnesota students.
  • Active, unrestricted RN license to practice
  • U.S. citizenship

Doctoral level psychologists

  • Applicants must possess an advanced degree from a doctoral program accredited by the American Psychological Association (APA), Canadian Psychological Association (in relevant clinical degree areas), or Psychological Clinical Science Accreditation System (PCSAS)
  • U.S. citizenship

Doctoral level pharmacists

  • Active, unrestricted license to practice
  • U.S. citizenship or current appropriate visa

Doctoral level physical therapists

  • Advanced degree from an accredited doctoral program
  • Fully credentialed independent practitioner
  • Active, unrestricted license to practice
  • U.S. citizenship
  • Not simultaneously enrolled in an accredited clinical training program

How to apply:
Interested candidates should send a cover letter stating career interests and fellowship goals, curriculum vitae, and three letters of recommendation to

Application deadlines:
Applications are accepted each year with a deadline of December 15 for priority consideration. Later applications may be accepted in some cases. Please contact Dr. Susan Diem ( with questions.

Click here to view some of our current and past fellows.

More information regarding the VA Quality Scholars Fellowship Program can be found here.


Susan Diem
CCDOR, Building 9/152