Think you can handle this physician career path?

By Physician Sense, for MDLinx
Published November 22, 2019

Key Takeaways

The close of the decade might have you pondering a career or job change. Physicians looking for a new job would be remiss not to consider government employment. While government physician jobs might not be what a doctor is used to, it presents a distinct set of opportunities and rewards from traditional clinical work. 

Advantages of government physician jobs

Physicians who work for federal and state governments enjoy a number of perks, the standout being job security. Do your job well, and it’s likely that it will be yours until you reach retirement age. Of course government benefits, such as pensions and health coverage, aren’t so bad either. And don’t forget those student loans — they haven’t gone anywhere. Working for a qualifying federal agency for a specified length of time could earn you federal student loan forgiveness

Perhaps the most compelling reason to choose government work is the service angle. You likely became a doctor because you wanted to help people. Government work positions you to help some of the most vulnerable populations as well as work to fix the healthcare system from within. Sounds pretty good, right? But let’s not be too idealistic. There are some drawbacks.

Disadvantages of government physician jobs

Let’s cut right to the chase. You likely won’t get rich doing government work. Pay tends to skew lower than the private sector. For example, pay for this CDC gig starts at about $76K. While that will get you far in most of America, it might not get you your dream home in California or the tri-state area. 

Another point worth considering: Government isn’t known for its efficiency. Things move slowly and policy can change with the administration. If you’re weighing a government job, prepare for lots of meetings, as well as the steep learning curve of navigating bureaucracy. 

Where to work

If all of that squares with you and you’re ready to make the leap into the public sector, the next question you have to answer is, where do you want to work? Myriad federal agencies need doctors. You can view open positions here. These are some of the more common agencies that employ doctors.

National Institutes of Health (NIH)

The NIH is a premier research agency for medicine and healthcare in the United States. With an operating budget of about $39 billion, NIH research helps improve life expectancy in the U.S. by better understanding and managing the biggest killers of Americans, such as cancer. If you long for your lab days during medical school and your undergraduate career, this is your chance to return to research and possibly discover medicine’s next big breakthrough. Glassdoor puts the median NIH physician salary at around $205K. NIH is currently hiring a CMO for its Clinical Center.

Indian Health Service (IHS)

A great career path for service-oriented physicians who want to live in more rustic locations, the IHS works “to raise the physical, mental, social, and spiritual health of American Indians and Alaska Natives to the highest level.” IHS services all federally recognized tribes, providing members with physical and behavioral healthcare. About 2.5 million Native Americans rely on IHS for care. IHS physicians commonly treat heart disease, cancerous tumors, injuries, and diabetes. The current lifespan of Native Americans is about 5.5 years shorter than that of the average American. Indeed provides a comprehensive overview of what IHS physicians make. For example, an internal medicine doctor typically makes about $92K. IHS needs physicians of every specialty for clinical work. Here’s a list of open IHS positions.

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