Jan 31

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Wide Open Spaces: 5 Reasons to Join the Public Health Service


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The Public Health Service / Indian Health Service, or PHS/IHS, is a branch of the federal government that is responsible for the well being of our country’s Native American population on a tribe’s respective reservations. As your can imagine, these reservations are far from the urban jungles of New York, Chicago, and LA with sites ranging from the painted desert of Arizona to the Badlands of South Dakota and everywhere in between!

careerIf beginning your career in a secluded part of the country sounds appealing to you, here are five more reasons why a career in the Public Health Service could be the best decision you make after graduation:

1. Competitive Salary and Benefits: As a PHS/IHS employee, three options are available for salaries. The commissioned corps, which is most similar to the military, follow basic military pay tables and allowances, where optometrists begin on the pay grade with an O-3 rank. The civil service pay scale is similar to that of the VA, with the exception of resident pay beginning at a generous $62,338 and increasing to $85,483 for 1-2 years experience.  The third pay scale option is delegated to tribal employees which is set by the tribal administration. As a commissioned corps OD, you qualify for all benefits associated with military service, whereas a civil service employee’s benefits parallel that of a VA doctor.

2. Two-year Contracts: Unlike most of the military’s opportunities which last a minimum of three years, the PHS has contracts that span only two years. With so many opportunities to explore in the optometric world, two years of practice can be the perfect amount of time to weigh your options for the future!

3. Residency availability: Seven residency opportunities are available through the Indian Health Service in affiliation with Student Loansthe Southern California College of Optometry. All are located in either Arizona or New Mexico and are considered Primary Care with a concentration in Ocular Disease. Residency coordinator information can be found on the IHS website by clicking here.

4. Loan Repayment Program: After committing to a two year contract, IHS employees are able to apply for loan repayments of $20,000 per year for two years. These programs are based on availability of funds, and generally offer 10-15 contracts per year. Once the two years has concluded, you may apply for an extension with two more years of service. Averages of 15-20 extensions are given each year.

5. An experience unlike any other: If you enjoy the outdoors and have the desire to work in federal service, the PHS/IHS may be the best opportunity for you.  With 8-12 opportunities available per year, it can be a great way to gain valuable clinical experience for future opportunities or to begin a 20+ year career in federal service. With locations in the Dakotas, Minnesota, Tennessee, Alaska, Oregon and all states in the southwest region of the US, you will not be lacking for beautiful scenery and peaceful surroundings!


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Matt Weinheimer

4th year optometry student at the Illinois College of Optometry. Bachelor … Read more

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  • ODCAREER.COM

    Great article outlining the IHS system which is truly unique! One word of caution though to upcoming graduates about loan repayment-In point 4 of the article it states “These programs are based on the availability of funds.” I accepted a VA job and was eligible for Education Debt Repayment Program (EDRP) up to $45,000 over 5 years. After applying for the program I was informed that there were no funds and I could not re-apply in the future. Keep such things in mind for your future positions! I also outline other optometry modes of practice on my site at http://www.odcareer.com/practice-modes/. Best of luck to all of our soon to be colleagues!

  • ADAM SIDDIQUI

    Thank you for the article. I just finished my MPH, and was wondering whether there was an OD/MPH connection to bring this to the field of Public Health. Should I pursue a career in Optometry, this would be great to consider!

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