When you think of the places where veterinarians work, you probably think of the animal hospital where you take your pet. Or maybe you think of a dairy farm. You probably don’t think of the federal government. But over 3,200 veterinarians work for the federal government, according to the National Association of Federal Veterinarians.
Over half of the federal veterinarians work at the United States Department of Agriculture, which you may expect because of the close relationship between veterinarians and animal agriculture. But what you may not expect is that federal veterinarians go into space with NASA, perform surgery on elephants at the National Zoo, and are elected to the U.S. Congress.
Federal veterinarians also have important jobs at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). FDA is responsible for keeping our food safe and for making sure drugs for both people and animals are safe and effective (that they safely do what they’re supposed to do). Veterinarians work throughout the various centers and offices of FDA, with the majority working at the Center for Veterinary Medicine (CVM).
Within the center, there’s a diverse group of veterinarians with many jobs. While their jobs may be different, the goal of all veterinarians at CVM is the same – to protect the health of both people and animals.
What would you do as a veterinarian at CVM?
As a member of the center's smallest office, the Office of Minor Use and Minor Species Animal Drug Development (OMUMS for short), you help make more drugs available for minor species, such as llamas and hamsters, and for minor uses in a major species, such as to treat a rare disease in horses. Can you name the seven major species? Find the answer and learn more about minor species and minor uses: What Does MUMS Mean?
If you’re a veterinarian in the Office of New Animal Drug Evaluation (ONADE), you look at information about animal drugs. Before a drug company can legally sell an animal drug, they must send ONADE all the information about the drug. Veterinarians in ONADE look at the information to make sure the drug safely does what it's supposed to do for the animal. The drug can be for a companion animal, such as a dog, cat, or horse, or for a food-producing animal, such as a cow, pig, or chicken. If the drug is for a food-producing animal, veterinarians and other scientists in ONADE make sure food that comes from an animal treated with the drug is safe for people to eat. If the information shows that the animal drug is safe and effective, CVM approves the drug and the drug company can sell it. Learn more about how an animal drug gets approved: Pill Bottle Pete.
CVM’s role doesn’t stop after an animal drug is approved. As a veterinarian in the Office of Surveillance and Compliance (OS&C), you make sure that approved animal drugs remain safe and still work. If you find information that shows an approved animal drug is not safe or does not work, the center can stop the drug company from selling it. Veterinarians in OS&C make sure the drug advertisements you see on television and in magazines are honest and contain correct information. They also watch out for unsafe levels of drugs in our food, stop drug companies from selling unapproved animal drugs that may harm people and animals, and look at the side effects of approved animal drugs to give people up-to-date information about the drugs they’re using in their animals. If you work as a veterinarian in OS&C, you run programs that prevent animal feed from being contaminated with toxins, such as pesticides and heavy metals, or with the abnormal prion protein that causes bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE). Learn more about BSE - also called "mad cow disease" - and how FDA keeps our cows healthy and our food safe: All About BSE (Mad Cow Disease).
If you like discovering how things work and uncovering new facts, the Office of Research (OR) may be the place for you. As a veterinarian in OR, you conduct laboratory studies to help the other offices in CVM make the best scientific decisions about animal drugs. Some studies help us learn more about the safety of animal drugs and how they work inside an animal’s body. Other studies help improve the tests used to check our food for unsafe levels of drugs and animal feed for toxins and other harmful materials. Veterinarians and other scientists in OR also find better ways to stop harmful bacteria, such as antibiotic-resistant bacteria, from getting into our food and animal feed. Veterinarians in OR make sure any animals used in a study are well cared for and stay healthy. At the end of one study, all the beagles were even adopted out to their forever homes! Veterinarians in OR also work on developing alternative study methods that won’t require the use of animals.
Veterinarians at CVM are very busy keeping you and your animals healthy and our food safe!
Where can you get more information?
- To learn more about what veterinarians do at FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine, call 240-402-7002 or send an email to AskCVM@fda.hhs.gov.
- To learn more about a career as a veterinarian: