To most of the general public, veterinarians are known for working in a clinic or private practice where they care for sick and injured client-owned animals. However, a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree provides access to a diverse spectrum of career possibilities in general and specialty practice, research, industry, and every branch of the government. Dr. Gregory Parham opted for the latter and used his DVM degree to create an extraordinary career with the United States government that spanned over three decades. When looking back, Dr. Parham believes the stellar education he received at The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine and the excellent mentorship from his veterinarian father and faculty gave him the inspiration, direction, and opportunities he needed to pursue a successful career in public service.
Born in Nelsonville, OH, Dr. Gregory Parham completed his bachelor’s degree in microbiology in 1975 at Ohio State and after graduation, he enrolled in the College of Veterinary Medicine. “In addition to my father, Dr. William M. Parham, Jr., Drs. Howard Williams, David Jones, and John Helwig significantly impacted my experience and development as a veterinary student,” said Dr. Parham. He added, “Dr. David Jones would always tell students that a veterinarian can do anything that a physician can do except treat clinically ill patients and that jumpstarted my thinking for how I wanted to use my education.”
Dr. Jones was a Professor in the Department of Veterinary Preventive Medicine at the college and the faculty advisor to Dr. Parham when he was as student. In addition, he was the Deputy Health Commissioner for the City of Upper Arlington. On several occasions, Dr. Jones would allow a small group of students to accompany him on restaurant inspections or when he was monitoring the rodent and mosquito activity. Dr. Parham also learned about careers in the government sector from Dr. John Helwig, who served as the Chair of the Department of Veterinary Preventive Medicine. “Dr. Helwig also helped by also educating me about the government sector,” said Parham. “I’m so grateful for both Dr. Jones and Dr. Helwig, because they helped me to see firsthand how veterinarians can work in the public sector and I knew I wanted a career outside of private practice.”
After graduation in the spring of 1980, he began his career as a Commissioned Officer in the Epidemic Intelligence Service at the United States Public Health Service's Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, Georgia. “I was very interested in epidemiology at that time in my career and Dr. Howard Williams encouraged me to apply for that position and I’m so happy that I did,” said Parham. From 1982 until 1986, Dr. Parham served as staff epidemiologist in the Food Safety and Inspection Service of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), and then as branch chief for epidemiology from1986 until 1990. He also served stints in information technology positions and was the National Program Leader for Veterinary Medicine and Livestock Production with the USDA Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service. Dr. Parham has co-authored several scientific publications on food safety and infectious disease and received several service awards during his career in regulatory veterinary medicine, including a Federal Agency Medal of Excellence. In 2000, he received the Outstanding Service Medal of the President’s Council on Year 2000 Conversion and has twice received presidential rank awards: a distinguished executive award in 2005 and a meritorious executive award in 2009.
He was appointed Assistant Secretary of Agriculture for Administration in June 2013 by President Barack Obama. Prior to this appointment, he was designated Acting Assistant Secretary and served as the Administrator of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), one of the largest employers of veterinarians in the Federal government. Dr. Parham also served as APHIS' Associate Administrator and as the Deputy Administrator for Marketing and Regulatory Programs – Business Services, after joining APHIS as the agency’s Chief Information Officer. He also received the college’s Distinguished Alumnus Award in 2012. After 36 years of public service, Dr. Parham retired in the winter of 2017.
When reflecting on his career, Dr. Parham attributes his success to his commitment to being a lifelong learner. After joining the USDA in 1982, he pursued a master’s degree in administrative science from Johns Hopkins Schools of Public Health and Continuing Studies to strengthen his professional portfolio, Dr. Parham explained, “I had the technical expertise in veterinary medicine and I chose to pursue that degree specifically because I needed programmatic and managerial expertise if I wanted to advance my career and take on greater responsibility.” Dr. Parham wants current veterinary students to be aware of all the career opportunities within the field. He added, “There’s always the possibility that what you initially start out doing may not be what you end up doing so please be open to change and continue to learn as much as you can about the field.”
Even in retirement, he’s continuing his commitment to gaining new knowledge. Dr. Parham is currently a fellow at Harvard University’s Advanced Leadership Initiative. The initiative is designed to prepare experienced leaders to take on new challenges in the social sector where they potentially can make an even greater societal impact than they did in their careers. Parham said, “I may be retired but that doesn’t mean I’m done with everything because I still want to make contributions to society and be a productive member of my community and maybe I can give back to others the remarkable encouragement and guidance that helped me throughout my career.”