Editor’s note: This is a recent installment in a series of employee profiles published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety Inspection Service, republished here with permission.
Dr. Gregory McDermott protects the public’s health here in America and in Afghanistan. He completes this task by wearing two hats — one as a supervisory public health veterinarian (SPHV) in the Philadelphia district and the other as a Lieutenant Colonel and brigade veterinarian in the U.S. Army Reserve.
McDermott knows he plays a crucial role as an FSIS veterinarian in keeping people safe, as he is the deciding factor in whether or not animals are slaughtered or if processed products make it into commerce.
He says, “It would surprise people if they knew what field employees do to keep food safe. Most consumers don’t know the physical or pathological condition of animals that enter the slaughter plants, or about the pathogens that can make them sick. FSIS ensures food is safe to consume on a daily basis.” He can say this with certainty because he puts a great deal of trust in his team of consumer safety officers and food inspectors to do their job well.
Personifying FSIS’ core values
McDermott says he empowers his team to perform an exceptional job by ensuring they receive the necessary training and tools to make and carry out informed decisions that protect the public’s health and to promote food safety. He also strongly believes in the core value of collaboration. He carries this out by proactively seeking his team’s opinions on a host of topics and promotes and encourages them to share information with each other and establishment personnel. McDermott achieves this using a tactic he learned in the military.
“I keep my inspectors actively involved in daily work-related conversations with the three C’s — command, control and communication,” McDermott said. “I make these conversations learning and teaching moments. I learn from them and they learn from me. I make it a point to let their points of view be heard, because it’s an integral part in the decision-making process. It also builds on their communication skills and information cache. Sharing their experiences allows everyone to understand what’s going on in other plants outside of their patrol, which they could one day find themselves covering. More importantly, it builds trust and eliminates the possibility of anyone being blindsided by something they would have otherwise not been aware of.”
The road to FSIS
In 1986, McDermott graduated from Delaware Valley College, in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, with a Bachelor of Science degree in Animal Husbandry. Upon graduation, he enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps. Two years later, McDermott completed Infantry training. He was first in his class and was recognized as the Company Honor Graduate. A year later, McDermott was selected for Officer Candidate School and eventually became an officer in the Marine Corps.
After being honorably discharged from the Marine Corps, McDermott returned to school. In 1996, he obtained a Master of Science degree in Large Animal Reproduction and Physiology from Pennsylvania State University. McDermott headed overseas to England, and in 2001, he obtained a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from the Royal Veterinary College of London. Returning to
the States, McDermott completed an internship in large animal surgery at the University of Pennsylvania’s New Bolton Center in 2002. Upon completion of his veterinary medical education, McDermott worked as an equine and small animal practitioner for 11 years.
Food safety and the military
In 2008, McDermott donned a military uniform once more and became a veterinary corps officer in the U.S. Army Reserve. He says that he wanted to continue serving his country as a veterinarian. And, he does just that.
“I was stationed in Afghanistan as an Army Special Forces veterinarian where I met with village elders to discuss my mission of educating Afghan farmers on the latest agricultural processes.I provided veterinary medical assistance for their livestock, such as wormers, anti-parasitic drugs and feed supplements. At times, I also discussed and provided equine dental care,” McDermott said. “The work can be dangerous, but it’s very rewarding to me and I know it’s valuable to the people of that country, and who knows, maybe it’ll have a positive impact on U.S.-Afghanistan relations.”
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