In an effort to attract more veterinarians to positions in the federal government, the Office of Personnel Management has revised the qualification standards for veterinary medical officers.
In April, the entry level for veterinary medical officers was raised from a GS-9 position to a GS-11 position, which made veterinarians equivalent to individuals with a PhD degree and no other work experience.
The revised standards benefit the veterinary profession by recognizing the qualifications of a veterinarian as a substantial accomplishment, according to Dr. Bonnie J. Buntain, chief public health veterinarian with the Department of Agriculture Food Safety and Inspection Service.
"It increases the pay that we can offer (a veterinarian) who's not been out in practice ... which helps our recruitment efforts and hopefully makes the job a little more attractive," Dr. Buntain said.
In 2006, the starting salary for a GS-9 level position is $38,175 and the starting salary for a GS-11 level position is $46,189.
The OPM revised several other qualification standards for veterinary medical officers. An individual with a DVM degree and a master's in an area of specialization related to veterinary medicine, such as food safety or animal sciences, qualifies as a candidate for a GS-12 position. Veterinarians who successfully complete all requirements for diplomate status in a veterinary specialty that is recognized by the American Board of Veterinary Specialties may qualify for a GS-13 position. Another revision states that the successful completion of two or three years of an internship, residency program, or fellowship training program in a discipline related to the position may qualify the veterinarian for a GS-12 or GS-13 position.
The USDA-FSIS approached the OPM in 2002 to request revision of the existing qualification standards for veterinary medical officers, which were established in the 1980s. The FSIS provided an expert staff member from its Human Resources Division to help rewrite the standards.
The AVMA also played a role in the revision by providing statistics on comparable salaries of veterinarians in other areas of practice. The Association met with the personnel classification experts at the OPM and FSIS to explain the disparities between starting salaries for public practice veterinarians and private practice veterinarians, and kept in contact with the OPM to ensure that efforts continued to move forward.
"There is a current shortage of veterinarians in public practice, and the shortage is getting worse," said Dr. Lyle P. Vogel, director of the AVMA Animal Welfare Division, who was involved in the process as former director of the AVMA Scientific Activities Division. "This change is one step to reverse that trend. This will benefit the public good because of the critical need for veterinarians to ensure food safety, public health, and animal health."
The National Association of Federal Veterinarians also provided input on the revision. "We think this is a very important achievement for the veterinary profession, particularly those involved in public practice in the federal government," said William G. Hughes, general council for the NAFV. "This will not have much of an effect on upgrading anything other than an entry level, but we think that is a victory unto itself, and we are pleased to have been able to play a part in it."