Book Recommendations, Social Commentary

“It Shouldn’t Be This Hard to Serve Your Country” by Dr. David Shulkin

The title alone grabbed me, but I was hoping it wasn’t a ruse to suck in veteran readers.

Thankfully, it was written from a fresh, down-to-earth point of view that had me riveted from the beginning.   The first chapter, entitled “Wild Goose Chase,” could actually be an accurate summation of Dr. Shulkin’s experience.  Truly, the ups and downs of his time as the Secretary of Veterans Affairs made for non-stop adventure reading.

The Maze

While many this side of the Veterans Affairs Dept experience the unknown, maze-like attempts to get answers, it intrigued me to find that even someone in charge had difficulty obtaining straight answers.  For this reason, I was able to identify with Dr. Shulkin as he detailed his political experience, navigating the Department and its actors without a map.  I think because we most recently experienced the Catch-22 of military health care, I could identify with his frustrations, and it helped to know that we were not alone.

In this book, Dr. Shulkin talks about how he was selected as the Secretary, and major efforts he undertook, as well as how he was fired.  The fact that he was a doctor, not a politician, stood out to many as hope for the Department of Veterans Affairs.  It was an unusual selection, but one I thought was a good move.

it shouldnt be this hard to serve your country

He walks us through many of his efforts; for example, his efforts to weed through privatizing the VA, and the political forces behind that movement.  I found myself questioning my own conclusions about privatization – is it in the best interest of veterans?  I am grateful that this work pointed out all sides of that story, something Dr. Shulkin did not have to do.

The circumstances behind his firing were, unfortunately, riveting.  Reading about the unpredictability of a government job, which I’d always assumed was secure, made me simultaneously appreciate and despise those who know “how to play the game.”  After all, here was someone who had fantastic experience leading within the oft-praised Atlantic Health system, but who came up on resistance to change because he was not part of the establishment.

My Take-Aways

Most interesting to me was that usually when someone writes a book, the reader expects to read all about the author’s successes; and while he did expound upon those, he took ample time to detail improvements he sought but were not successful.

In this vein, I conclude that this book is useful from a leadership perspective for anyone pursuing a political appointment or who is currently occupying one.

In addition, Dr. Shulkin kept political commentary to a minimum, allowing for readers of all points on the spectrum to learn from his mistakes.  I love when authors feel confident enough in their observations not to condescend to and lecture their readers.   I do wonder if this comes from his background as a doctor, leaning on facts rather than assumptions to determine courses of action.

Well done describing your experience, Dr. Shulkin.  Thank you for trying to do right by your patients, veterans, and this country.

Friend, read this book and let me know what you think in comments below.
Get yours in any format here:

it shouldnt be this hard to serve your country



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