Food and Drug Administration employees who are hired on the basis of their scientific credentials frequently need years of instruction on the legal and political components of regulatory agencies, Dr. Stephen F. Sundlof said.
"When we bring in people, it often takes them three years or more before they are able to optimally function in a complex regulatory environment, and anything we can do to reduce that time is money in the bank for the agency," he said.
The visiting professor, who in May stepped down as director of the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (see adjoining story), is among faculty of the Center for Public and Corporate Veterinary Medicine at the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine who are working with veterinary colleges at The Ohio State University and the University of Minnesota to develop a program that they expect will help government scientists develop the skills needed for work in regulatory agencies.
The program's target audience is government employees interested in career development, recent doctoral graduates preparing for government careers, and veterinary students who want additional training in corporate or public practice. The program will provide training in scientific and nonscientific areas, with the intent of giving veterinarians a competitive advantage when pursuing positions in public veterinary practice.
Dr. Valerie E. Ragan, director of the college's Center for Public and Corporate Veterinary Medicine, said the new program, while still in a conceptual stage, is expected to allow participants to gain additional training and, potentially, a master's in regulatory science. She said the curriculum also could be useful for veterinarians in private practice who have clinical backgrounds and want a career change.
"A number of them want to make a job change but don't really have certain skills they need, to be of value to the agencies, without some additional training," Dr. Ragan said.
Dr. Sundlof said regulatory agencies need new employees to keep up with scientific advances. The FDA, for example, deals with rapidly changing subjects, including genetic modification of crops and food animals, identification of pathogens and other harmful foodborne agents, food processing techniques designed to minimize disease risks, and medical technology.