Rejected by the CDC & What I’m Doing Instead!

I know, I know, it’s been way too long. I love sharing all of your stories and experiences so much that it makes it easy for me to get a little lazy about writing my own blog posts every now and then!

Recent adventure on the northwest coast of Sicily.

Recent adventure on the northwest coast of Sicily.

But it’s past time for an update. The last few months have been a whirlwind of big decisions here in the Garber household. As the wind and rain of December in Sicily rolled around, I was leaning very strongly towards getting off of active duty in the Army. I thought I would probably transfer to the Reserves and piece together some other part-time work while figuring out what came next.

Applying for a Job at the CDC

Then I saw this advertisement on USAJobs for a Veterinary Medical Officer with the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention in Tbilisi, Georgia. The position was based in the CDC’s Global Disease Detection Branch, and it sounded perfect for me. It would involve frequent travel to the other countries of the Caucasus and coordination with veterinary and public health authorities in the region on zoonotic disease outbreaks.

GDD Regional Center Maps

CDC Global Disease Detection Branch Regional Centers

So I thought, what the heck, might as well apply and see what happens. I really didn’t think I wanted to go straight into another full-time job, but this seemed just appealing enough to make it worthwhile. I spent way too long preparing my application and resume on USAJobs, making sure that I carefully crafted them with the goal of honestly presenting myself while meeting all the requirements of the position.

I submitted the application in mid-December and heard within days that I had met the automatic screening criteria. Yay! Little did I know, this was just the beginning of what would turn into a much longer process. I waited about three weeks before receiving a personal e-mail saying that my application had been received at the CDC and was being reviewed.

Then after another three weeks, at the end of January, I got an e-mail saying that I had been selected for an interview! Woohoo! At this point, as you’ll soon learn, I had already committed to something else. I thought it would be worthwhile, however, to continue on with the interview if only for the learning opportunity. And who knows, maybe if I actually got the job there would still be a way to make it happen.

The interview happened a few weeks later. It was a conference call with both the administrative coordinator and eight, yes EIGHT, high-profile veterinarians and other leaders from the CDC. I wasn’t really expecting it to be so formal. Each interviewer asked one question (which I had not been given beforehand), and I spent about five minutes answering each of them. As I was talking, all of the interviewers were rating my responses using some type of system which would help with the final selection of the most qualified applicant.

The whole interview lasted about an hour, and I hung up feeling pretty ambivalent about my chances. I knew that the main areas I was lacking were my lack of academic publications and my boots-on-the-ground epidemiology experience. Sure, I have my MPH and MS degrees, and even the ACVPM credential, but most of my work in the Army has been clinical medicine rather than public health.

I had heard from some veterinary friends at the CDC that it was almost impossible to get this type of position without having done the Epidemic Intelligence Service first. And I can see why this is—it makes sense for the CDC to choose someone from within their own ranks, who has a known quantity of training and skills especially in epidemiology. I know I could have done well in the position, but there definitely would have been more of a learning curve for me than for some others.

So that was that. In early March I got an e-mail saying that the panel had selected someone else. Of course I was disappointed, but I’m glad for the learning experience and even more glad that I wasn’t really depending on this opportunity for gainful employment.

AVMA Fellowship Program

The only other full-time position that I was really considering outside of the Army was the AVMA Fellowship Program. As a fellow, I would have gotten to live in D.C. (near my family) while serving as a scientific adviser to a member of Congress. The fellowship pays about $80,000, so this combined with my Reserve pay and benefits would have been more than enough. I’ve always loved learning about policy and government, so it would have been a really valuable year for me in a lot of ways.

When decision time came, however, I realized that I might be an even more qualified applicant a couple of years from now. I had already committed to the new job before this application was due, so I didn’t even take the trouble to apply.

I was so excited to learn this week that two fourth year student acquaintances and future uncommon veterinarians, Elise Ackley and Chase Crawford were both chosen for the fellowship. Congrats to you both!

What I’m Actually Going to be Doing

Okay, I know I’ve drawn this out long enough! Here’s what happened.

After much debate and discussion, I had decided way back in August that I wasn’t going to apply for a Special Operations position in the Army. This was a possibility that had fascinated me ever since I first learned about the Veterinary Corps, so it was a very difficult decision to make. At the time, it seemed like the right decision for me and my family.

Then in October, long after the application deadline, I got an e-mail letting me know that there might be a new position opening up, and “Are you sure you still aren’t interested?” That was a total surprise. I thought that my “no” had really meant “no,” so I was not expecting to get this message.

US_NSWC_insigniaAs it turns out, the new position was with the Naval Special Warfare Command (SEALs). I knew that the organization had been advocating to get a veterinarian at their headquarters for a number of years, and I had always thought that this would be my ultimate dream job as an Army vet.

So when I got that e-mail, I couldn’t say no. Gotta at least give myself the opportunity to compete for such a unique opportunity to serve, right?

Well about two months later, I got another message, saying something along the lines of, “The position is a go, and you’re our guy!”

Wow. That really rocked my world. I was very close at that point to turning in my official request to resign from active duty.

I only had a couple of weeks to make a final decision. It was one of the hardest choices I’ve had to make in my life, for a lot of reasons. Becca and I had really been looking forward to moving back to D.C. to take advantage of the fact that both sets of parents and most of our siblings would be in the area for a limited time. I was also excited to have more time to pursue my writing and other entrepreneurial projects.

But I knew I would always regret it if I turned this down. I’d honestly been dreaming of this job for almost ten years, and now it was staring at me in the face.

So I said yes! We’ll be moving from Sicily in July to start my new assignment in San Diego, California.

I'll be based at that collection of buildings in the upper left of the photo.

I’ll be based at that collection of buildings in the upper left of the photo.

Because I’ll be the first veterinarian in the position, I know there will be a lot of learning on both sides. I’m excited to use my education and training to serve this community of elite warriors in their diverse global mission.

The SEALs have recently begun using a lot more military working dogs, so that will be one primary focus. I’m hoping that I’ll also get to be involved in the clinical care of some of the marine mammals just across the bay from Coronado.

But mostly, I’m just excited for the opportunity to be a part of this team devoted so wholeheartedly to protecting and defending my country. I won’t be quite at the tip of the spear, but I’ll be about as close as we can get as military veterinarians.

Have you made any big career decisions this year?

I would love to hear about them in the comments below!

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47 Responses to “Rejected by the CDC & What I’m Doing Instead!”

  1. Eden April 29, 2014 at 9:49 pm #

    Thanks for sharing! Applying for and deciding about jobs can be a process full of opacity if you’re not on the inside. Good to hear other people’s stories.

    • Elliott April 29, 2014 at 10:28 pm #

      I agree! I would love to learn more about other people’s career decisions but for some reason it’s something many vets don’t seem to talk about much.

  2. Radford April 29, 2014 at 10:01 pm #

    Elliott, I came to realize about 3 years ago what you learned about CDC. They talk a good game about wanting vets to work for them, and to vet students, but they never come out and say “You have to go through EIS”, which is a shame because they really mislead applicants and crush student dreams. EIS is great, but I’ve also learned there are a lot more interesting, satisfying, and just plain better jobs out there.

    Congrats on the SEALS position. Does this mean you have to go through their boot camp too? I’m too old for that. Good luck. Hope we can connect when you get back in the states.

    • Elliott April 29, 2014 at 10:30 pm #

      I’m glad to know I’m not the only one, Radford! I’m sure there are exceptions to the EIS rule, but doesn’t sound like they are very common.

      No, I won’t go through SEAL training. I’ll be with them as support staff, but not one of them. I’d be up for the challenge but don’t know if my body could hold up, either.

      • SingingDrJosh May 19, 2014 at 2:27 am #

        Of course it could. I’m sure it’d be no harder than hauling two kids through the streets of Paris!

      • Michele Jay June 28, 2014 at 3:32 am #

        I’m a little late joining the discussion, but congrats on your new position!

        For what it’s worth, I lamented a CDC EIS rejection early in my career. And ultimately joked with fellow “reject,” Bill Keene – not a DVM, but a legend in epidemiology

        Anyway – you’re in good company (the CDC reject letter đŸ™‚

        I’m glad how it all worked out for my career and work with CDC colleagues in a different way.

        Enjoy San Diego and come visit us in Davis!


      • Vds471 March 1, 2016 at 10:44 pm #

        I work for the CDC and it’s a tremendous place to work. Bummed you didn’t get a shot but yes, it can be a closed ranks kinda place. You would have been in NCEZID like me so if you ever want to check back to see if any other roles are a good fit – give me a shout. I consider my job one of my many great blessings and love CDC and its people so much I want everyone to be that happy with their work. Everything works out as you’ve seen. Sounds like you have a wonderful job and thank you for your service.

  3. Ann S April 29, 2014 at 10:06 pm #

    Congratulations! That is a
    Area in which to live!

    • Elliott April 29, 2014 at 10:30 pm #

      Isn’t it?? We’re definitely excited for the move, but it will be sad to leave Sicily behind too.

  4. Lucy April 29, 2014 at 10:21 pm #

    Thanks for that explanation of your journey. All of those job possibilities sound intriguing, and this one with the SEALS particularly so. You will be a veterinary ‘pioneer’ in this position with the SEALS. Seems like it will be an interesting group of men to work with. I look forward to your updates once you are on the ground in San Diego.

    • Elliott April 29, 2014 at 10:31 pm #

      Thanks for your comment! They will definitely be an interesting group to work with and learn from. I don’t know how much in the way of updates I’ll be able to provide once I’m there, but I’ll definitely share what I can.

  5. Adam Little April 29, 2014 at 10:26 pm #

    Thanks for sharing your journey. It is great to hear more about this new position and we all look forward to the stories ahead.

    • Elliott April 29, 2014 at 10:32 pm #

      Great to hear from you, Adam. Hope all is well way over there in Guelph!

  6. Rebecca April 29, 2014 at 10:27 pm #

    That is so awesome! Really admire the Seals- what an opportunity!!!

    • Elliott April 29, 2014 at 10:33 pm #

      Thanks Rebecca! I agree and hope I can represent our profession well in that community.

  7. Cole Vanicek April 29, 2014 at 10:32 pm #

    Congrats Elliott.

    Thanks for your keen insight into the opportunities and challenges we experience as veterinarians seeking a life outside of “the trenches”.

    • Elliott April 29, 2014 at 10:35 pm #

      Always good to see your name here, Cole. And not only because it is also the first name of the main character in my fiction-writing efforts! Yes, there will always be challenges but hopefully they are not insurmountable.

  8. Daninicole14 April 29, 2014 at 10:33 pm #

    Wow, that’s amazing! Congratulations! Best of luck beginning this new journey in your career, and I hope you get to write about your experiences after you get settled in in San Diego đŸ™‚

    • Elliott April 29, 2014 at 10:37 pm #

      Thanks Dani! I know I’ll have to be pretty careful about what I write about the new job, but I do want to share all I can!

  9. Daniel April 29, 2014 at 11:43 pm #

    Congratulations Elliott!

    I love reading your blog, it always gives me hope. I’m a foreign veterinarian (Class of 2011) and I just moved back to the US after 10 years. I’m going through the ECFVG process and I’ve had to make some tough choices during the past couple of years. I had to give up practicing as a vet to get my “green card” and it is painful knowing that I have found my passion and I’ve done the schooling to be able to do it as a career, but I can’t because of my circumstances. However, when I see your posts I get excited and I think that everything will be okay and that I won’t have to stay in the job I have right now (which is nothing related to vet med) for more than a couple of years. I think it’s the whole army thing, I know applying to the Vet Corps is the first thing I’ll do when I get my license and my citizenship, as competitive as it is to get in. The possibilities excite me, thanks for taking my mind off my frustration for not being able to practice! It’s like I’m living vicariously through you haha good luck and again, congratulations!

    • Elliott April 30, 2014 at 7:22 am #

      Thanks for your kind words, Daniel. I know of several veterinarians in the Army who have followed a course very similar to yours, so be encouraged! Yes it is a long road, but it sounds like you are prepared and persistent enough to really make it happen. Good luck!

  10. Trevor April 30, 2014 at 1:22 am #

    Congrats on the new job! San Diego will be one of my top picks for a first assignment. Hopefully your position becomes an ADT location. I would love to hang out with you for a few weeks in San Diego!

    • Elliott April 30, 2014 at 7:23 am #

      That would be awesome! I kind of doubt that they would be able to allow it given the clearance issues, etc, but I’m totally up for trying.

  11. Rhett April 30, 2014 at 3:03 am #

    Congrats on the exciting new job. You are an inspiration.

    • Elliott April 30, 2014 at 7:24 am #

      Thanks Rhett, hope your studies are going well!

  12. Virginia April 30, 2014 at 9:48 am #

    Congratulations! Thanks for sharing your experience. It is so interesting to think about all of the jobs that are ACTUALLY out there that we don’t even know exist or are possible. It shows you how important it is to keep your mind open and take opportunities as they come because you never know where they may take you.

    As my pathology residency is ending, I am having immense trouble finding a job and am almost being forced to look into PhD opportunities. Without boards – that don’t even happen until September – or a PhD (for minimal pay after multiple degrees), you are not really considered because the competition is so steep in this economy. For one job, there were over 25 applicants, which is a lot for the few available positions! I thought pathology would open so many doors for all of these new jobs and opportunities, but instead, everyone wants you to now be even more specialized in some other field, such as molecular biology, genetics, immunology, toxicology etc… to bring in grant money and do research. It is not what I expected at all considering I don’t want to do research or pharma, so I don’t see the need for a PhD just to do diagnostic work. So, I am now scrounging to try find SOMETHING in order to avoid unemployment with a family in my future!

    • Elliott April 30, 2014 at 4:17 pm #

      Ugh, really sorry to hear about this difficulty in finding a position Virginia. I’ve heard the same thing recently from other path residents, so at least you know you’re not alone. I guess I was kind of dealing with the same thing in my rejection from the CDC — even with all these degrees and board specialty I couldn’t get what kind of seemed like a basic job. I hope something good will turn up soon!

  13. Vet Changes World April 30, 2014 at 3:43 pm #

    Glad to hear you found such a great opportunity! The road forward can definitely take some unexpected turns. Best of luck with the move and the new position!

    • Elliott April 30, 2014 at 4:15 pm #

      Thanks for the comment, Cindy! I never thought I would stay in the military past my initial commitment, so that’s one completely unexpected result of these recent decisions.

  14. Brad April 30, 2014 at 4:26 pm #

    I am very happy for you and your family, Elliott. Your life’s work is an inspiration to me, and it gives me fuel to continue to work to make my dreams come true. Thank you for putting so much heart and soul into your site. You have helped me immeasurably, and I’m really excited to hear more about your next chapter. You deserve it.

  15. Melodie April 30, 2014 at 5:37 pm #


    I am a current undergrad pre- vet student and have contracted with the Army already through my ROTC. It is so awesome to see that there are so many opportunities for Army Vets. It makes me hopeful for my future! Also, the SEAL job sounds amazing! I am from the SD, CA area originally and it’d be great to live there again. My question to you is this: do you think that the SEAL operations will expand their base of veterinarians in the future (for hopefuls like me?) or do you predict them staying small?
    Again, so awesome to hear about the opportunities!

  16. Di May 1, 2014 at 9:47 pm #

    Popped over from Becca’s blog. What an exciting opportunity! In reading about all your potential jobs it made me wonder if you had ever me my friend’s sister who was an army vet (think she’s not doing it anymore), Karyn Havas- she was a epidemiologist and I know she did some of her PhD work in Georgia….

    Anyway, congratulations on the new job. San Diego sounds lovely!

  17. cris May 2, 2014 at 1:58 am #

    Well, yes USAJobs and the process are confusing. I really wish you had gotten the job because I just wrapped up today sending off the veterinarian who was selected for the position! As such the least you can do for me is come join me in Civil Affairs when you are ready to come to the Reserves. Good luck to you!

    • Joanna June 27, 2014 at 4:23 am #

      Don’t listen to him Elliot. Come join Veterinary Services!! I can assure you you can get the boots on the ground epi for future job opportunities! I hope you ultimately are able to attend FADD school at Plum Island if you haven’t already. P.S. Cris is my supervisor!!

  18. Afton Christine May 5, 2014 at 6:10 am #

    Congratulations on the new job. Just goes to show that there is a lot of opportunity in veterinary medicine.

  19. John Brandsma May 8, 2014 at 5:42 am #

    What an opportunity! I’m currently you 10 years ago stilling dreaming large of the potential to work in a special operations position. Good luck and I hope to fill your boots one day.

  20. Sarah May 9, 2014 at 4:24 am #

    Great post about navigating all the winding roads we travel as “uncommon” veterinarians. đŸ™‚ I’m on my own winding road right now, looking for a job, as you know! So wonderful to hear about your new opportunity. I think you’ll be the perfect person for this unique position, and San Diego is pretty much the BEST place to live! Enjoy this new adventure!

  21. Brian Jochems May 29, 2014 at 8:53 pm #

    Congrats on the exciting new job in San Diego! San Diego is an amazing area, and I am sure you will love the city. I spent last summer there working on a reseach project for the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, and I will be back again this July and August working on another project! If you need any help settling in, or tips on what to do in your free time (if you have much!), let me know! I went on some awesome hikes last summer, and of course the Zoo and Safari Park are big highlights of the city!

  22. Rachel July 4, 2014 at 6:06 am #

    I am speechless with envy!
    Thank you for sharing this. How overwhelmingly inspiring.

  23. Mae November 12, 2014 at 9:42 pm #

    Wow that’s awesome! Congratulations! San Diego is one of the better places to live in California; nice weather, cool sites, great restaurants…I think you’re going to enjoy it.

    By the way, if you get the chance to tour the San Diego Zoo’s veterinary hospital, you should go for it. I’m a pre-veterinary student, and I know I’m probably easily impressed, but when my pre-vet club got the chance for a tour I learned so much from the veterinary staff and the zookeepers. It was great!

    Good luck with everything! I look forward to hearing more about it in the future!

  24. Jesi November 9, 2017 at 8:22 pm #

    Thank you for sharing your experiences as an uncommon veterinarian. They are nothing short of unique and inspiring. I’ve always loved animals and said I was going to become a veterinarian, but after getting my bachelors degrees I decided to take some time off to explore other interests. I think I always knew in the back of my mind that I would end up going to vet school, I just had to find my own path to get there and combine my interests of medicine and animal behavior. I have recently realized that I can’t imagine myself doing anything other than becoming a veterinarian. In saying that, there has also always been a part of me that’s wanted to serve our country. Through my research of uncommon veterinary opportunities and ways to combine my interests and passions, I found your site. I cannot thank you enough for the time and effort you put into providing such terrific information for others that are considering a similar career path. I am now in the beginning stages of applying to vet school and looking into the HPSP scholarship more seriously. I thought I would reach out to you now, as I am sure I will have some questions (if you have time and wouldn’t mind answering), but also to thank you for sharing your story.

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