United states public health service

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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1]

Organization of the Public Health Service

The United States Public Health Service is comprised of all Agency Divisions of Health and Human Services and the Commissioned Corps. The Assistant Secretary for Health (ASH) oversees the PHS and the United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps.[1] [2]

Agencies within the Public Health Service

Commissioned Corps of the U.S. Public Health Service

The Commissioned Corps of the U.S. Public Health Service is an elite team of more than 6,000 well-trained, highly qualified public health professionals dedicated to delivering the Nation's public health promotion and disease prevention programs and advancing public health science. Driven by a passion for public service, these men and women serve on the frontlines in the Nation's fight against disease and poor health conditions.

As one of America's seven uniformed services, the Commissioned Corps fills essential public health leadership and service roles within the Nation's Federal Government agencies and programs. The Corps has officers in many professions, including environmental and occupational health, medicine, nursing, dentistry, pharmacy, psychology, social work, hospital administration, health record administration, diet, engineering, science, veterinary, and other health-related occupations.


The mission of the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps is to protect, promote, and advance the health and safety of the United States. As the USA's uniformed service of public health professionals, the Commissioned Corps achieves its mission through:

  • Rapid and effective response to public health needs
  • Leadership and excellence in public health practices
  • Advancement of public health science

Employment Opportunities

The Commissioned Corps is an essential component of the largest public health program in the world. Corps officers may apply to a variety of positions throughout the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and certain non-HHS Federal agencies and programs that offer professional opportunities in the areas of occupational health and safety; environmental health; disease control and prevention; biomedical research; regulation of food, drugs, and medical devices; mental health and drug abuse; health care delivery; and international health.

Officers in the Commissioned Corps have opportunities for mobility among government agencies and career advancement in diverse work settings. Officers gain varied experiences and have promotion opportunities. The Commissioned Corps encourages them to expand their knowledge base and grow professionally so that they can effectively deal with the challenges of improving public health. Tuition and long-term training opportunities may be available.

Commissioned Officers of the U.S. Public health service are members of the U.S. Military, but not the Armed Services. They are paid according to military pay tables, are eligible for military health care (TRICARE) for themselves and their dependents, and are covered by The Service members Civil Relief Act of 2003.

The Commissioned Corps website http://www.usphs.gov/ has more information regarding employment.


The origins of the Public Health Service may be traced to the passage of an act in 1798 that provided for the care and relief of sick and injured merchant seamen. The earliest marine hospitals created to care for the seamen were located along the East Coast, with Boston being the site of the first such facility; later they were also established along inland waterways, the Great Lakes, and the Gulf of Mexico and Pacific Coasts.

A reorganization in 1870 converted the loose network of locally controlled hospitals into a centrally controlled Marine Hospital Service, with its headquarters in Washington, D.C. The position of Supervising Surgeon (later Surgeon General) was created to administer the Service, and John Maynard Woodworth was appointed as the first incumbent in 1871. He moved quickly to reform the system and adopted a military model for his medical staff, instituting examinations for applicants and putting his physicians in uniforms. Woodworth created a cadre of mobile, career service physicians who could be assigned as needed to the various marine hospitals. The uniformed services component of the Marine Hospital Service was formalized as the Public Health Service Commissioned Corps by legislation enacted in 1889. At first open only to physicians, over the course of the twentieth century, the Corps expanded to include dentists, sanitary engineers, pharmacists, nurses, sanitarians, scientists, and other health professionals.

The scope of activities of the Marine Hospital Service also began to expand well beyond the care of merchant seamen in the closing decades of the nineteenth century, beginning with the control of infectious disease. Responsibility for quarantine was originally a function of the states rather than the Federal Government, but the National Quarantine Act of 1878 conferred quarantine authority on the Marine Hospital Service. Over the next half a century, the Marine Hospital Service increasingly took over quarantine functions from state authorities.

As immigration increased dramatically in the late nineteenth century, the Federal Government also took over the processing of immigrants from the states, beginning in 1891. The Marine Hospital Service was assigned the responsibility for the medical inspection of arriving immigrants at sites such as Ellis Island in New York. Commissioned officers played a major role in fulfilling the Service's commitment to prevent disease from entering the country.

Because of the broadening responsibilities of the Service, its name was changed in 1902 to the Public Health and Marine Hospital Service, and again in 1912 to just the Public Health Service. The Service continued to expand its public health activities as the nation entered the twentieth century, with the Commissioned Corps leading the way. As the century progressed, PHS commissioned officers served their country by controlling the spread of contagious diseases such as smallpox and yellow fever, conducting important biomedical research, regulating the food and drug supply, providing health care to underserved groups, supplying medical assistance in the aftermath of disasters, and in numerous other ways.

Today the mission of the Commissioned Corps of the PHS is "Protecting, promoting, and advancing the health and safety of the Nation."

Uniforms of the United States Public Health Service

Members of the Public Health Service Commissioned Corps wear uniforms similar to those of the United States Navy with unique and distinctive PHS Corps devices and use rank insignia identical to that of Naval officers. Two different sets of rank titles are used. Most commonly used are the standard Navy rank titles. Also used are titles that identify the specialty of the officer in the title. An officer in the grade of O-5 / Commander is a "Senior Surgeon." An officer in the grade of O-3 / Lieutenant is "Senior Assistant".

The headquarters of the U.S. Public Health Service are located in Washington D.C., and Rockville, Maryland.

Emergency response since 1999

Commissioned Corps emergency response teams are managed by the Office of the Surgeon General. They are trained and equipped to respond to public health crises and national emergencies, such as natural disasters, disease outbreaks, or terrorist attacks. The teams are multidisciplinary and are capable of responding to domestic and international humanitarian missions. Officers have responded to many such emergencies in the past, including:

1999—hospital center at Fort Dix, NJ, for Kosovo refugees
2001—terrorist attacks
2001—anthrax attacks
2004/2005—tsunami and earthquake in Indonesia
2005—hurricanes Katrina and Rita
2006—earthquake in Hawaii
2006—medicine contamination in Panama

External links

This article is based on the public domain text History of the Commissioned Corps, PHS

See also

de:United States Public Health Service


  1. Organizational Chart of Health & Human Services, 2007
  2. http://www.hhs.gov/ash/

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