Looking out for federally employed veterinarians

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This past February, members of the AVMA Animal Agriculture Liaison Committee learned that some federally employed veterinarians earn less than federally employed individuals with MD or PhD degrees, when in many cases these three groups have equivalent positions and responsibilities. The committee also learned that the U.S. Office of Personnel Management is reviewing the pay scale of some federal veterinary medical officers.

Seizing the moment, the committee brought the issue to the AVMA Executive Board, which has now approved an AVMA effort to try to change the salary schedules and other compensation of federal veterinarians so they are equal to federal physicians.

Potential activities include garnering support through letters or visits to the secretary of agriculture, secretary of health and human services, and director of the Office of Personnel Management.

"There is already a move by the government to make a change," said Dr. Michael Chaddock, director of the AVMA Governmental Relations Division.

Currently, the OPM is reviewing salaries of veterinary officers classified as GS-701, including those in the Food and Drug Administration, and the Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service and Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

Dr. Robert E. Hertzog, representing Executive Board District VII, stated that some individuals are awarded a veterinary degree, without receiving a bachelor's degree, and this could be one source of the problem.

A USDA Skills Gap Analysis predicts that, by 2007, there will be a shortage of 584 veterinary medical officers, primarily in FSIS and APHIS. This represents a shortage of approximately 34 percent of the total predicted need of full-time permanent veterinarians.

Currently, the government will hire a veterinary graduate at a GS-9 salary level of $38,974, whereas they will hire an individual with an MD or PhD degree at a minimum of GS-11 salary level of $47,156. And private practice offers new graduates a mean starting salary of $46,339, according to an AVMA survey in spring 2002. So, how is the government going to attract veterinarians?

Dr. Thomas R. Kendall, AVMA vice president, thinks the inequities need to be addressed now. "This is the time to strike."