Dr. Stephen Gau is a board-certified emergency medicine (EM) physician at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) Loma Linda Healthcare System in California. Dr. Gau joined the emergency room (ER) department eight months ago, after working in the ER at an area community hospital. Dr. Gau said that his VA career allows him to spend more time with Veteran patients and benefit from VA’s educational debt relief program and two retirement programs. And, through VA, he has rekindled his love of teaching through his interactions with physicians in residency programs.

In this installment of our #ChooseVA Careers blog series, Dr. Gau explains why he was attracted to a VA career in emergency medicine and why he thinks other physicians should consider working at VA.

What is your primary job at VA?

I am a staff emergency medicine physician at the Jerry Pettis Memorial Hospital in the Loma Linda Healthcare System.

Describe your areas of specialty and how you apply these skills on behalf of Veterans.

My job is to resuscitate the critically ill patient and to root out any potentially life threatening or debilitating pathologies in patients who present to the emergency department with a myriad of chief complaints of varying levels of acuity.

What was appealing about a career at VA?

The patient population, the generous benefits, the job security and stability (no corporate contract to worry about losing) and medical-legal protection were significant factors in my decision. While I am capable of handling a high volume of patients, it is also nice to have a smaller patient load per shift than what I am used to managing.

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

Taking care of Veterans who have sacrificed so much to serve our country and really having the time to do a good job for them. I also love my staff and our EM department leadership. I feel very appreciated and very supported in my role at Loma Linda. I think I have made a difference and have been useful.  I now look forward to going to work, which is a huge improvement in my overall well-being.

How has VA helped you grow in your career?

I am still very new to the VA and to my facility. However, in my short time, I have really enjoyed working with the many resident physicians from multiple specialties that work here. I have been blessed with the opportunity to work with them during shifts, supervising procedures and providing bedside education. I have always enjoyed teaching, but never really had an opportunity to actually teach residents since my own residency training. This job has reignited my passion for that, which has been a wonderful benefit. I recently applied for an assistant faculty appointment with a local residency program and taken on educational projects for my department. In emergency medicine, we all get better together.

What are a few key benefits of working at VA?

VA’s Education Debt Reduction Program (EDRP) was a big selling point for me to join VA. I still have a very large amount of medical school debt to service. The EDRP program helps to accelerate the pay off dramatically. In addition, the Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) is a very nice 401(k)-type program with 4 to 5 percent matching. The matching is phenomenal! The Federal Employees Retirement System, combined with the TSP, provides a real sense of security and peace of mind knowing that my retirement planning is being addressed. It is awesome that physicians earn one paid day off per pay period and that we get all federal holidays paid. At my site, there is a lot of flexibility for vacation planning, which helps with career longevity and stress reduction. I also have a very nice health insurance policy.

What do you find most surprising about working at VA?

That there are a fair share of high-acuity cases that walk through our doors that we need to know how to handle. This is actually exciting for me, since we hardly get any advance life support ambulance traffic.

What story do you most often tell people about your work?

In my first few months here, I helped the cardiology fellow and cardiology attending “float” a transvenous pacer wire to save the life of an unstable, bradycardic patient!

What would you tell other healthcare professionals who are interested in choosing a career at VA?

I think that the VA provides a very viable career option for someone looking for a change. At VA, you are a well-trained, valuable member of the healthcare landscape and serve as a safety net for Veterans. Moreover, the value of the benefits (especially if you have student loans), the decreased stress, the medical-legal protection and the vacation time are all substantial.

What story do you most often tell people about your work?

Every VA location has its own challenges. It will likely be frustrating at first, especially when coming from the community. You may feel handcuffed by certain policies or have to fight harder to get things done. Be patient. Change takes time, but I fervently believe that it can happen with dedicated individuals who are committed to improving things for everyone — especially the Veterans.

Choose VA today

Benefits, work-life balance and the chance to put Veterans’ care first led Dr. Gau to choose a VA Career. See if an emergency medicine career at VA is the right choice for you too.


Share this story

Published on Mar. 13, 2019

Estimated reading time is 4.7 min.

Views to date: 207

More Stories

  • With investments in a diverse workforce and leadership, our sense of inclusion equals innovation for the Veterans we serve.

  • “Talk About It Tuesday” guests Lindsay Marth and F. Keith Bradley share their perspectives on what it means to come to VA and support Veterans.

  • Through the Medical Foster Home Program, caregivers can open their homes and their hearts to Veterans who need assistance with daily activities.