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IHS Impressions

Indian Health Dentistry
Career News and Information
Vol. 9, Issue 1

Getting a Jump on the Competition

A Guide to Planning for a Career With IHS DOH

CAPT James Schaeffer
CAPT James Schaeffer, DMD, MPH
Deputy Director, IHS Division of Oral Health

At a time when job prospects for college graduates entering the workforce are scarce, a career with the Indian Health Service (IHS) Division of Oral Health (DOH) has become an attractive option — so attractive, in fact, that the competition for entry-level dental positions is expected to be even greater this year. Applicants can improve their chances of being selected for an IHS DOH position by learning as much as possible about the application process, how it works and noting important deadlines to meet.

“With the economy so slow, we expect an upsurge in applications, but there are fewer openings because people are choosing to stay and make a career at IHS,” says CAPT James Schaeffer, DMD, MPH and Deputy Director of the IHS DOH, who estimates that IHS will hire only about 25 to 30 entry-level dentists from May through September of 2012. “To improve the likelihood of selection for an IHS DOH position, dental students now in their senior year need to be knowledgeable about DOH career options, requirements and schedules and go to extra lengths to ensure that job contacts at the facilities they are targeting are aware of their interest,” he explains.

In addition to experiencing firsthand the personal satisfaction that comes from working with underserved and appreciative patients, externs have the opportunity to learn about traditional American Indian and Alaska Native cultures and enjoy the natural beauty and recreational opportunities of the region where they are assigned.

CAPT Schaeffer, who chose a career through the Commissioned Corps of the US Public Health Service (USPHS), believes the key to improving one’s chances is in the details. He recommends that applicants:

  • Start early — IHS DOH begins accepting job applications for fourth-year dental and dental hygienist students on January 3, 2012. All other licensed candidates are eligible to apply year round. Don’t wait to begin the application process.
  • Visit the IHS DOH website — Learn more about the IHS DOH and the three career paths (federal civil service, USPHS Commissioned Corps or direct Tribal hire) available.
  • Join the Recruitment Listserv — Receive the most updated information on vacancies and announcements.
  • Discover Recruitment Events and Web Seminars — Search recruitment events around the country or learn more from your desktop via our Web seminars.
  • Create a My IHS Profile — Request an IHS DOH information packet and upload your resume and letter of intent.
  • Identify a career path — Visit the USPHS Commissioned Corps Exit Disclaimer: You Are Leaving  and federal Civil Service Exit Disclaimer: You Are Leaving  websites to learn more about what each career path has to offer.
  • Submit a letter of intent and resume — Submit these documents with your profile or, if you’ve already created a profile, send your letter of intent and resume to Your letter of intent should include:
    • Your preferred career path.
    • The approximate date you will become available to work based on the date you will get your license to practice.
    • Where you would like to be located:
      • The best “geographic” preference in terms of potential job offers is “Flexible: I am willing to consider any location within IHS.” This does not commit you to accept employment at the first open site, but it demonstrates your willingness to consider employment anywhere within IHS.
    • Your enrollment as a member of an American Indian or Alaska Native Tribe or village, if applicable. This information is optional.
    • Any connections with the regions where you prefer to be assigned.
    • Information on community service and your IHS DOH externship experience, if applicable.
  • Search the Vacancy List — Job vacancies are updated weekly, including many future opportunities.
  • Make contacts — Call or email the job contact at sites that interest you. Inform the contact that you have completed a My IHS Profile on the IHS DOH website and inquire about application requirements (including the job announcement number if a federal position), job requirements, housing options and when the position will be offered, among other things. Federal job listings are also available at USAJOBS. Exit Disclaimer: You Are Leaving  Remember the more contacts you make, the greater your chances of finding a position.