Veterinary Jobs in Government

Some veterinarians find great career satisfaction as state or federal government employees.
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State veterinarians often enforce health document rules at horse shows and gatherings.

Have you ever wondered what it might be like to be a government employee? Turns out there are many interesting job opportunities for veterinarians in government. The range of possibilities varies from clinical positions like diagnostics and surgery to positions in the health sciences, public health and the Centers for Disease Control, environmental health, the Armed Services and federal agencies such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration, to name a few.

How to Market Your Skills

Patricia L. Wohlferth-Bethke, DVM, is the manager of the AVMA Career Center and Assistant Director of the AVMA Membership and Field Services Division. She offered helpful advice on how to begin to look for an appropriate government job: “When you were in college and had a plan to go to vet school, what would have been your contingency plan had you not gotten in? Consider what you like to do, what your passion might be, and what gets you up in the morning.”

She recommended making a list with "pro" and "con" columns as to what you might want to do. She also suggested noting what you never want to do again; for example, some vets later in their careers decide that they wish to avoid positions that require their hands on live animals.

When seeking other employment, it might seem that your skill set is primarily as a health care provider. Yet, through years of experience, you have also honed other invaluable skills just by virtue of the kind of work environment in which you have participated.

Wohlferth-Bethke remarked that some skills you can emphasize as you compose your résumé include: good communication skills; leadership qualities; the ability to negotiate and facilitate between people; excellent problem-solving capabilities; and the ability to plan and manage time. All of these skills are part of the daily life of being a veterinarian in private practice.

“Leverage your training and undergraduate degree from pre-vet school into other possible skill sets that amplify your chance of securing a government job,” recommended Wohlferth-Bethke. For example, if your degree was in microbiology, that could prove very useful in a biological-based job. She said it isn’t necessary to have a Masters in Public Health for some government positions, but it can be a great advantage. If extra consideration is given to those with advanced certification (Diplomate, for example), be sure to advertise that fact, as that can give you a leg up on your application.

She urged, “Translate your clinical practice skills into experience that is suitable for other jobs.” Some relevant examples:

  • As a diagnostician, you are a problem solver.
  • The empathy you have for animals translates to being able to look at things from different vantage points.
  • As someone who orders pharmaceuticals and supplies and assesses equipment for purchase, you are skilled as an inventory manager.
  • As a writer (of medical records, newsletters, client educational tools), you are an instructor and teacher.

“Think of your skills more as universal talents that can be applied successfully to other job positions,” she added.

Additional resources to help with your government job search include a couple of books by Kathryn Troutman: “Federal Resume Guidebook” and “Ten Steps to a Federal Job.”

The Federal Job Search

The AVMA Career Center archives webinars (Avma.org/careerwebinars) that provide excellent information about specific federal job opportunities. Video examples include the US Army Veterinary Corps, Wildlife Resources, Pathology or Epidemiology.

The next place to look is the site where all Federal jobs are posted: USAJobs.gov. It is helpful to set up “job alerts” on this site and to apply quickly when a position opens up. When viewing a job listing, note that tags above the listing further describe duties, qualifications, salary and benefits, and how to apply.

Most veterinarians start at a federal pay scale of General Schedule (GS) 11 or 12 (out of 15). Those with Diplomate or advanced degrees and education might start at GS 13. It is important to select at least GS 11 as one criterion in the search database. The classification of federal jobs is reviewed in detail at opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/ classification-qualifications/.

To tailor your search for a job listing that is most appropriate to your interests and needs, it is recommended to use series numbers coupled with keywords. Examples of series designations:

• 400 series (Biological Sciences and Natural Resources, such as Wildlife/ Conservation/Department of Interior)

• 600 series (consumer safety officer or public health program specialist)

• 700 series (Veterinary Medical Science is 701)

• 1300 series (Physical Science)

• 1800 series (Consumer safety inspection, food inspection, public health quarantine inspection)

Not all veterinarians in federal government are employed in the 0701 series. In order to improve your chances of landing a government job, it is worthwhile to also search in the other series listed above. By virtue of a veterinary education, you are an expert in the biological sciences and are well-qualified for many positions, as for example those in the 400 series.

After designating a series in your search criteria, add in keywords or phrases such as “biological sciences,” “veterinary medical officer,” “general health science,” “health scientist,” “wildlife,” “zoonosis,” “chemistry,” “epidemiology” or “pathology.” The idea is to pull up as many possibilities as you can in a varied range of skills that you might have to bring to a position.

You can save each job search with different criteria at the USA Jobs site. These are put into a “client account” that automatically sends you an email about a job when your designated criteria are met. The narrower the search, including specification of GS level, the more likely you will find something well suited to your qualifications and desires.

Other places to search for federal job listings include:

  • USDA Food and Safety Inspection Service: foodsafetyjobs.gov
  • U.S. Forest Service: wfs.fed.us/fsjobs/ openings.shtml
  • Centers for Disease Control: cdc.gov/ employment 
  • Commissioned Corps of the U.S. Public Health Service: usphs.gov/profession/ veterinarian/
  • The United States Animal Health Association: usaha.org/Reference/Bulletin- Board.aspx
  • The FDA Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM): (240-402-7002) fda.gov/ AboutFDA/CentersOffices/Officeof- Foods/CVM/ucm183988.htm 

There are subgroup offices within the FDA’s CVM. Detailed descriptions can be found at the following links:

  • Office of Minor Use and Minor Species Animal Drug Development (OMUMS): fda.gov/AboutFDA/CentersOffices/ OfficeofFoods/CVM/WhatWeDo/ ucm078568.htm
  • Office of New Animal Drug Evaluation (ONADE): fda.gov/AboutFDA/CentersOffices/ OfficeofFoods/CVM/What- WeDo/ucm077923.htm
  • Office of Surveillance and Compliance (OS&C): fda.gov/AboutFDA/CentersOffices/ OfficeofFoods/CVM/WhatWeDo/ ucm077913.htm
  • Office of Research (OR) fda.gov/AboutFDA/ CentersOffices/OfficeofFoods/CVM/ WhatWeDo/ucm078158.htm

You might want to converse with other federal veterinarians before launching into a government career path. The National Association of Federal Veterinarians (hnafv.org/AboutUs.html) might be a resource for this purpose.

State Government Jobs

Valerie Ragan, director of the Center for Public and Corporate Veterinary Medicine at Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine, is proactive in helping veterinarians locate alternatives to private practice, including government jobs. She recommended the website for the U.S. Animal Health Association (usaha.org) as an excellent source for exploring opportunities and career areas in both federal and state governments.

Under the “Committees” tab on that site, it is possible to review the types of issues on which veterinarians work when in the public sector. This can give you an idea of the types of positions you might want to pursue. Under each heading, there is also a member directory that can provide insights into related employer types.

The National Institute of Animal Agriculture also has meetings devoted exclusively to equine issues: the Equine Disease Forum (animalagriculture.org/equineforum). Contacts working in government can be found through this resource.

Other sources for state government jobs can be found with the state’s Department of Agriculture and Animal Health or the Department of Livestock. You can even do a Google search for the state veterinarian in the state in which you are interested. Ragan notes that most state jobs for veterinarians are often posted at usaha.org.

Pros and Cons of Government Employment

In an excellent webinar presented by Stephen Sundlof, DVM, PhD, at the AVMA webinar link, the pros and cons of federal government veterinary jobs are described. In addition to providing career stability and job security along with competitive pay in the low six figures, other benefits are noted: paid annual leave plus 10 paid federal holidays; sick leave; health, life and long-term care insurance; retirement, pension plans and 401K-type match programs. Many positions also provide opportunities to acquire advanced training.

There are less-desirable features of a government job. For example, while the salary is quite good, there might be limited earning advancement potential. For some positions, it might be necessary to relocate or accommodate travel requirements. Probably the most important consideration in taking a government job is how well you can deal with the system of bureaucracy that might dictate restrictions on what and how you can do things. Personality types that prefer instant gratification such as can be found in private practice might find this difficult to deal with.

“One caveat for those seeking government jobs is to be patient, be meticulous, and be willing to accommodate forms, details and rules, as this is part of many government job positions,” said Wohlferth-Bethke.

Other Aspects of Applying for a Government Job

It is noteworthy that when applying for a federal position, you are not applying directly to the agency that is offering a position, but rather you are submitting a job application to a human resource branch of government. The HR specialist team makes the first cut on the applications, looking for qualifications that match well with the job description.

The résumé of an applicant who is deemed qualified is then forwarded to the agency, after which the agency further pursues that applicant.

To improve chances of being selected for a federal job, understanding what qualifications are required for each government position enables an applicant to present himself or herself in the best light. For every position for which you apply, it is necessary to submit a separate résumé.

In addition, an applicant must complete a self-assessment/occupational questionnaire. This asks about qualifications as they pertain to qualifications listed in job. One essential qualification is graduation from an AVMA Council on Education-accredited veterinary college. Having a veterinary license to practice in one state allows you to work in a federal job position in another state. All of the minimum qualifications must be addressed on the self-assessment questionnaire, including general and specialized experience; otherwise, HR won’t consider the application. Those who clearly articulate how their skills and experience correspond to the selection criteria defined by the job opportunity announcement have the best chance of being moved forward by the HR department.

The initial objective when submitting an application is to have the HR official rank your application in the “best qualified” category. Once designated in that category, the applicant is then considered in a “certificate of eligibles,” which is sent to the agency advertising the job position. The agency is only able to hire people listed on the certificate of eligibles.

Take-Home Message

While job hunting for government veterinary jobs might seem a bit like an art form, it can be satisfying when you land the position that best meets your career goals. The list of website links included in this article gives you a good starting place to look into pursuing a government career path. 

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