Is a government job worth it?

  1. I have been in negotiation with a military facility for a full-time GS position as a civilian. The salary range was listed as about 80-150K. I have 10 years of primary care experience and they initially offered me about 100K. At the time my pay from a private internal medicine clinic was around 120K but the benefits were sucky, especially health insurance for the family was super expensive (like 1K per month!). I sent them proof of my income (required for federal job negotiation) and I honestly thought they were no longer interested in me because I didn't hear back from them for a long time. Surprise! Months later they counter offered with 110K (a 3 step increase).

    In the meantime I have already started another position with another company with a base salary of 130K with better benefits (but not as good as federal). But this position is in a specialty (endocrine/diabetes clinical trials) so limited in scope and I don't see myself doing it forever (who knows if this research company will be around that long any way). But the schedule good and its low stress compared to my previous job.

    I am going to go for round 2 of negotiations for the government job with my current salary information as I am interested in the stability of a government job, low cost medical insurance, retirement plan, and scope of practice (I'd have my own panel of primary care patients, which is what I prefer).

    My question is...how much are these government benefits and retirement plan really worth? They were trying to tell me that you should consider about a 20 percent lower salary due to the great benefits and retirement. Is this true? Any insight? I'm working on trying to calculate it out. Anyone able to negotiate to start closer to the top of the GS pay scale? I don't think I can stomach a 20K pay cut... but I'm trying to think long term here.

    I'm in a relatively high COL area on the east coast.

    Thanks for any input!
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  2. 19 Comments

  3. by   Jules A
    No easy answers I'm afraid. Much of it will depend on how old you are and the likelihood that you will be able to tolerate a federal job over the long haul. I do not have NP experience and my RN VA experience is from years ago so possibly not relevant but I can share what I found. The work load was extremely light, to the point of being bored which seemed to breed laziness in myself and others. The staff was largely vets and my impression nearly impossible to fire. There were a few with outrageous behavior who were eventually relocated but again not fired. The health benefits were good but not significantly cheaper or better than a solid BC/BS plan. The time off was generous and would be easy to compare to your current position dollar to dollar. The 401k type thing had a generous match and has performed well, I still have it. My experience was they did not offer a pension any longer but I have heard differing reports suffice to say I was not offered a pension. I believe I was eligible for portable health benefits if I stayed 5 years? Sorry my memory is foggy on that detail but that would be great for someone in their late 50s who was going to retire soon as a medicare bridge.

    I turned down an offer to work as a NP due to the significant reduction in salary and in truth although I enjoyed the VA the politics made it such that I have been happier in all the civilian settings. Although if the bottom line had been worthwhile I have a high threshold for discomfort. In my opinion at $20,000 a year it might actually be worth it. You will need to stick around for a while, be ok with possibly not being stimulated and accept that many less than optimal policies do not change "because that's the way its done". I'm sure others will write with more specific NP experience. Good luck with whatever decision you make.
  4. by   AutumnBlaze
    Quote from Jules A
    No easy answers I'm afraid. Much of it will depend on how old you are and the likelihood that you will be able to tolerate a federal job over the long haul. I do not have NP experience and my RN VA experience is from years ago so possibly not relevant but I can share what I found. The work load was extremely light, to the point of being bored which seemed to breed laziness in myself and others. The staff was largely vets and my impression nearly impossible to fire. There were a few with outrageous behavior who were eventually relocated but again not fired. The health benefits were good but not significantly cheaper or better than a solid BC/BS plan. The time off was generous and would be easy to compare to your current position dollar to dollar. The 401k type thing had a generous match and has performed well, I still have it. My experience was they did not offer a pension any longer but I have heard differing reports suffice to say I was not offered a pension. I believe I was eligible for portable health benefits if I stayed 5 years? Sorry my memory is foggy on that detail but that would be great for someone in their late 50s who was going to retire soon as a medicare bridge.

    I turned down an offer to work as a NP due to the significant reduction in salary and in truth although I enjoyed the VA the politics made it such that I have been happier in all the civilian settings. Although if the bottom line had been worthwhile I have a high threshold for discomfort. In my opinion at $20,000 a year it might actually be worth it. You will need to stick around for a while, be ok with possibly not being stimulated and accept that many less than optimal policies do not change "because that's the way its done". I'm sure others will write with more specific NP experience. Good luck with whatever decision you make.
    As a current VA employee, I mostly agree with this, with one exception.Although many workloads are quite light, the primary care NPS tend to have very high caseloads and the turnover is high. The vacation and sick time is generous. The so called pension is not really relevant unless you plan to stay at least ten years. At 5 yrs, you can leave and take your insurance with you and you may get enough pension to just pay your insurance.My health insurance costs are no better than at a non government facility,
    My salary is low compared to my private NP practice in the past. I came to the VA for reasons other than pay, but I have learned my lesson.
    And as you posted, the politics.... It is very frustrating,
  5. by   imanfnp
    Thanks for the input. Interesting that you both found the health insurance not much cheaper, I'm trying to get them to tell which plans I would be offered as the government website they sent me to has multiple plans listed with wildly varying rates and I don't know which ones are options for me.

    So per the federal employee website I would have both FERS which is like a mini-pension but only reaches a significant amount if you are there at least 10 years, and the thrift plan which is like a 401K but I have no clue how much the match is. But good to hear from you that it is generous.

    I am 39 years old and at this point I WOULD consider staying "forever" I do like primary care. So I could potentially work for 25-30 years and get a significant amount through the FERS plan. And I too have a high tolerance for BS as long as it is not unethical or leading to poor patient care or dangerous working conditions. Also this is NOT a VA job it's at a military hospital mostly caring for active duty, families, and a very few retirees, so pretty low acuity healthy population. I don't know if this setting would have less of the well known "politics" and BS that goes on at the VA.

    Overall, I got a very good vibe when I interviewed, nice new facilities, staff appeared happy, didn't seem to be to busy or hectic.
  6. by   Oldmahubbard
    A lot of factors to consider here. I am "retired" from a State NP job, which I did for some 13 years. I also had a few years of state service in other positions. The family insurance at the end cost about 350 a month, and was paid pre-tax, so not bad at all. It was, of course, going up every year.

    In my state, a 10 year (or more) employee can permanently keep the insurance coverage as long as they are on the plan at age 55. But to take the insurance, you also must retire, and accept whatever pension you have coming. The rules are a little complicated. Of course, there is nothing to stop you from retiring, and then going to work somewhere else, which I did.

    The retirement benefits are getting less and less, that is the trend. Just for comparison, I get about 1000 dollars a month, plus my insurance. Nothing you could live on.
    The amount of paid time off is decent, and the sick leave is very generous. Also, I recently learned that between the Union and state benefits, people are getting their DNP with very little cost to them. Great!

    The work load for me was quite light, just like the stereotype. You could roll the proverbial ball down a hallway on Fridays and not hit anyone. Most of the work was done on Monday and Tuesday. I read books. I always got out at 4:30.

    The politics at times could truly be vicious, and I regularly had to work with incompetent doctors. And cover their cases because they couldn't be bothered to come to work.

    I worked with some excellent staff over the years, and a few idiots. Just like anywhere else.

    On more than one occasion I was suddenly re-assigned due to the politics, and other people not getting along. Some of the not getting along is probably fueled by long hours sitting around and time to gossip.

    Overall, I didn't mind the position. When I told people I was leaving at age 55, no one could understand it. A state job is considered the pinnacle of existence. But the salary maxed out at 90k and I had an opportunity to make 150-200k. I got that opportunity through the contacts I made at the government job.

    One thing, despite the politics, government jobs offer a lot of security. They do very occasionally fire people, but not on a whim.

    As I said, a lot to consider. In general, I think a government job that pays 20k less often compares quite well with a non-government job, when everything is factored in.
  7. by   djmatte
    Lots of good information here. It's also hard to say because different federal jobs have different benefits. The leave at the VA is phenomenal. A stated above, the options aren't less costly than private, but being a federal job you have access to a broader range of options than say one or two a private company might endorse. If you're working with veterans, toy need a lot of patience (i am one.. So trust me on this). People will no show often. People will show up late often. Most va clinics will still see them unless the clinic had closed for the day. Their charting system is antiquated, but functional. While burnout may be high in primary care, I've had the same pc doc at mine for at least 5 years and she's been phenomenal. I think attitude and approach go a long way in veteran care.
  8. by   traumaRUs
    Also with the military hospitals, you need to look at the base you will be working at. At Scott AFB (O'Fallon, MO) which I'm familiar with - they outsourced their hospital several years ago as it was cheaper to send AD military and family members "downtown" (off base) for care.

    So - if you are at a big base which has a strong mission, you might be okay - just something to consider.

    I've worked at the Ft Greely AK clinic (I was a clerk at the time), the 121 Evac Hospital, Seoul, Korea (again as a clerk) and at the VA in Indianapolis plus I was active duty for several years and have been a spouse for many years so have some experience with working at these facilities.
  9. by   Neats
    Being in the military before, married to a military retired man and all my children are in the Army Guard or reserves I can tell you the benefits are eroding so much I do not see a wide spread difference unless you look at retirement. Retirement for Federal employees is pretty good if not great, and they get much everything approved for prior authorizations. This is where it ends. Benefits change over a period of time, almost gone are the pension retirements and even good healthcare benefits are costly...I tell my children show me the money, they are healthy and get benefits of healthcare through the military reserves. Their civilian jobs pay much more than government jobs and what they earn from working in non-government organizations along with their week end once month reserve duties is setting them up for success.
  10. by   imanfnp
    Hmm, good to know. Thanks, I have very little experience with anything military so thank you.
  11. by   Tony1790
    I'm with the VA as well, the pay varies wildly depending which VA you work at and if you transfer, your pay can fluctuate wildly as well. There is FERS retirement, at age 62, with at least 20 yrs service, you would be at 1.1% of your pay, $100,000 x .011 = $1100 x 20 yrs = $22,000/yr retirement (not great) but they also have 5% matching on their TSP (401K), and you still get your social security. The Annual leave is great, basically 5 weeks per year, plus 10 federal holidays, so overall about 7 weeks per year off, not too shabby. The stability is good, and if you stay in it long enough, you work your way up to decent money. A friend of mine is an RN with 34 years of service, she makes $103,000 base, plus differentials, she's about $125,000 per year as an RN and she does not work hard at all. She is under the old system and will get 80% of her pay at retirement, but that's the old system, not FERS. Overall, annual leave and stability are big draws, politics and PC run amok are negatives, just depends what you want. Overall not a bad way to go and if you are in a military hospital, you would be better off than at a VA, IMO. Good luck either way!
  12. by   imanfnp
    Quote from Tony1790
    I'm with the VA as well, the pay varies wildly depending which VA you work at and if you transfer, your pay can fluctuate wildly as well. There is FERS retirement, at age 62, with at least 20 yrs service, you would be at 1.1% of your pay, $100,000 x .011 = $1100 x 20 yrs = $22,000/yr retirement (not great) but they also have 5% matching on their TSP (401K), and you still get your social security. The Annual leave is great, basically 5 weeks per year, plus 10 federal holidays, so overall about 7 weeks per year off, not too shabby. The stability is good, and if you stay in it long enough, you work your way up to decent money. A friend of mine is an RN with 34 years of service, she makes $103,000 base, plus differentials, she's about $125,000 per year as an RN and she does not work hard at all. She is under the old system and will get 80% of her pay at retirement, but that's the old system, not FERS. Overall, annual leave and stability are big draws, politics and PC run amok are negatives, just depends what you want. Overall not a bad way to go and if you are in a military hospital, you would be better off than at a VA, IMO. Good luck either way!
    Hmmm, that is quite a lot of leave, and I am being told to negotiate to start with max amount of PTO if they won't budge on salary. With that much PTO I could actually work per diem quite often at my original job and make pretty good $$$ that way...so much to consider.
  13. by   Orca
    Quote from traumaRUs
    Also with the military hospitals, you need to look at the base you will be working at. At Scott AFB (O'Fallon, MO) which I'm familiar with - they outsourced their hospital several years ago as it was cheaper to send AD military and family members "downtown" (off base) for care.
    The same thing happened at Tinker AFB (Midwest City, OK). I worked at the area hospital for four years, and we were the official care provider for military personnel and dependents after the base hospital closed.
  14. by   3ringnursing
    Only you can decide if leaving your new job is worth it, but in 2001 I made the jump from a private hospital on the long slide down toward closure to a VA facility. Here I worked in the MICU/SICU until a chronic health condition caught up with me. I got real sick. I had to go on FLMA twice - full pay in advance both times with the agreement I could pay it off from my PTO and sick time.

    Eventually I couldn't continue in ICU - a reasonable accommodations committee placed me elsewhere (telephone triage) but I continued to decline. Eventually I had to take medical disability retirement. The FLMA pay I owed was forgiven and I didn't have to pay it back.

    This was a full retirement package after 4 years of working there. I received full pay while battling with social security (4 years). Once I was approved for social security disability my VA retirement decreased accordingly (you can't have both) but I continued to keep all my health benefits for my family and myself.

    10 long years I was busy dying, but didn't. Eventually I started to get better after some controversial treatment (had it been left to regular medicine I'd be mouldering in a box in the ground right now).

    I returned to full time nursing working from home. 9 months later I transitioned completely off of social security. I thought my VA benefits would end too. I thought wrong.

    Because the VA is such a high payer, at a private facility I make less than 80% than if I had returned to the VA at my last job - my family and I kept our health benefits through OPM (medical, dental, vision, life insurance) and the VA even pays half toward the medical copay - everything else is free.

    If not for the VA I would have been in a world of hurt financially, and lost my health insurance. To this day - 14 years after I left ready to die, they still take care of me even though I returned to full time work elsewhere.

    That's not to mention regular step/grade promotions and pay increases annually. There is a wide variety of health insurance to chose from too. If you actually retire due to age you get a retirement/pension (the mean average for the last 3 years you worked) not just your 401K or 403B.

    So yes, I'd say a government job is worth it.
    Last edit by 3ringnursing on Jan 10

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