Dr. Red, White and Blue

Practicing medicine within one of the federal government's agencies can mean great benefits, predictable hours, and travel opportunities. The pay is competitive and the hassle factor is close to zero.

By Mark Terry | Feature Articles | Summer 2010

 

THE UNITED STATES GOVERNMENT HIRES A WHOLE LOT OF PEOPLE. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are about 2 million civilian employees, excluding the U.S. Postal Service, and about 85 percent work outside the Washington, D.C.  metropolitan area. Generally, the pay is competitive and the benefits—especially healthcare and retirement—typically exceed those in the private sector.

The federal government is flush with jobs for physicians. Some of those jobs are fairly obvious, such as with the Veterans Affairs (VA) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which oversees divisions such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Others, such as the State Department and the Federal Bureau of Prisons, might not be quite as obvious. Here are six federal agencies with opportunities for physicians seeking employment

Department of Veterans Affairs

Not surprisingly, the VA is a major employer of physicians, with approximately 18,500 doctors on its payroll. The agency operates 153 hospitals, but it has more than 1,000 points of care, such as community-based clinics, throughout the country. In addition, the VA is one of the largest trainers of physicians in the country. Joleen Clark, MBA, chief officer of workforce management and consulting for the VA says, “We have about 35,000 residents that rotate through annually and about 18,000 medical students.”

Clark says that they encourage those trainees to stay with the VA after residency, “but like any organization, you can only have so many new people. You want new people with your experienced people. It’s a mix. We look for all levels of experience within that scope,” she says.

Because of the numerous facility types, the VA has a need for all specialties, although the needs will vary from institution to institution. Clark says, “If it’s a large tertiary care facility, they’re going to have all the subspecialties there, so the complement of physicians and specialties is going to be very broad compared to one of our rural facilities.”

The size of the organization also benefits physicians’ career trajectory. “Because we are such a large organization there is plenty of room for advancement,” Clark says.

The pay for VA physicians is not as high as most physicians would get in private practice, but they fall under Title 38, which outlines veterans’ benefits. It’s market-based, competitive, and no malpractice insurance is required because of the VA tort claims system. Clark says, “We have a good benefit package and really regular hours. Even though they’re on call 24/7, it’s really an 8 to 4:30 shift.”

The VA currently hires about 3,000 physicians annually. Clark says, “Licenses are transferable; you just need to have a license in any state to practice anywhere in the country.”

Physicians interested in jobs with the VA should visit the official website at vacareers.va.gov.

 

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