Jobs for Physicians in the Federal Government

Kenneth Lankin MD, MBA, MPH


What comes to mind when working for the Federal Government?  Working at some dreary VA hospital?  Did you ever consider working for the federal government can be interesting, meaningful, and I daresay fun? It can.  Let me tell you why.

The federal government leads the nation in policy and research.  And I’m not just talking about medical research, although there’s plenty at the National Institutes of Health (NIH).  But think about The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) that performs outcomes research or the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).  Non-clinical positions, no nights, weekends, holidays or call.  Sound good so far?

Maybe what you really enjoyed about medicine in the first place is problem solving.  There’s plenty opportunity for that.  You can help develop new drugs at the FDA, investigate disease outbreaks at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), help plan for natural and man made disasters at Homeland Security, or investigate airline and rail accidents at the Department of Transportation.

When I worked at OSHA one summer our team investigated an oil refinery explosion.  You can’t help those who were already hurt, but you can feel very good about helping to prevent illness and injury for others. One of the heroines of federal service is Frances Oldham Kelsey.  You probably haven’t heard of her, but you’ve heard of thalidomide.  The reason thalidomide was never FDA approved in this country is because a young Dr. Kelsey working in the drug approval section courageously disapproved this drug from going to market- despite it’s use in Europe and Canada.  Stories like this are pervasive.  This past fall of 2012 black mold was implicated by the CDC that was responsible for a multi-state outbreak of fungal meningitis cases linked to tainted steroid preparations.  Although it’s “non-clinical” work, it improves the health of thousands and possibly millions.  How cool is that?

What about compensation?  Think “total” compensation, an “all in” figure as HR professionals refer to.  Salaries can be anywhere from $123-$223K in general.  You get time off, sick days, and federal holidays off as a start.  You don’t have to pay malpractice insurance and remember you don’t any overhead to worry about— except what kind of lanyard you want to sport to hold your federal ID in place.  You don’t worry about billing and re-imbursement issues, unless that’s your area of study.

If you’re looking to advance your non-clinical career in industry, starting with a federal agency can lead to very lucrative offers.  Probably the largest source of non-clinical jobs is the device and pharmaceutical industries.  They often require “industry experience” or “experience with the FDA regulatory process.”  Now suppose you already worked at the FDA.  Pretty good set-up?  You bet.  See what’s available now.  Go to or any of the big job search engines like or  Use keywords “medical officer”, “physician”, and “medical director.” Good luck.

Kenneth M. Lankin, MD, MBA, MPH, (Annapolis, MD) Kenneth M. Lankin, MD, MBA, MPH is a former Occupational Medicine Physician and Public Health Emergency Officer for the Naval Health Clinic in Annapolis, MD; home of the US Naval Academy. He also served as an advisor to Navy Medicine’s Clinical Informatics Advisory Board and was an appointed Human Resources Selection Officer. Dr. Lankin is a clinical instructor for Occupational Medicine and holds a faculty appointment in the Department of Preventive Medicine at the Uniformed Services University. Peter Moskowitz MD, Center for Professional & Personal Renewal (Palo Alto, CA) Dr. Lankin is currently the Associate Corporate Medical Director at JP Morgan Chase & Co.