If you watched the White House press briefing on COVID-19 today, you might have wondered what the Coast Guard folks were doing on tv for a Presidential Address about a global pandemic. And then, upon further inspection of their uniforms and seeing the “USPHS” and a cross embroidered over the left breast pocket where it usually says, “U.S. Coast Guard,” you might have been wondering, “Who are these people and what do they do?”
Introducing the U.S. Public Health Service.
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What is the USPHS?
According to their website, “Overseen by the Surgeon General, the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps is a diverse team of more than 6,500 highly qualified, public health professionals. Driven by a passion to serve the underserved, these men and women fill essential public health leadership and clinical service roles with the Nation’s Federal Government agencies.
For more than 200 years, men and women have served on the front lines of our nation’s public health in what is today called the Commissioned Corps of the U.S. Public Health Service. The Commissioned Corps traces its beginnings back to the U.S. Marine Hospital Service protecting against the spread of disease from sailors returning from foreign ports and maintaining the health of immigrants entering the country. Currently, Commissioned Corps officers are involved in health care delivery to underserved and vulnerable populations, disease control and prevention, biomedical research, food and drug regulation, mental health and drug abuse services, and response efforts for natural and man-made disasters as an essential component of the largest public health program in the world.”
And, fun fact: they wear uniforms.
According to their site, “Few things inspire pride and esprit-de-corps more than the U.S. Public Health Service (PHS) uniform. By wearing the uniform, Commissioned Corps officers display a profound respect for their country, their service, and themselves. Uniforms promote the visibility and credibility of the Commissioned Corps to the general public and the Nation’s underserved populations whom officers are devoted to serving.
The PHS uniform traces its roots back to 1871 when John Maynard Woodworth, the first supervising surgeon (now known as the Surgeon General), organized the service along military lines. The uniforms reflect the proud legacy and tradition of the more than 200-year-old service. Uniforms link today’s officers to their heritage and connect them to past officers. Since they represent the Commissioned Corps history and tradition, rigorous standards apply to wearing the uniform and every officer upholds those standards with pride.
Similar to the other services, the Commissioned Corps has several uniforms including the Service Dress Blues, Summer Whites, Service Khakis, and Operational Dress Uniform (ODU) Woodland Camouflage. Each uniform reflects the great responsibility and privilege that comes with being a commissioned officer.
View how the ranks and grades of the Commissioned Corps compare to the other six uniformed services of the United States.”
U.S. Public Health Services Lt. Cmdr. Angelica Galindo, conducts a patient assessment at the Escuela Elemental Urbana in Cidra, Puerto Rico. U.S. Air Force photo/Larry E. Reid Jr.
So are they in the military?
Nope. They’re non-military uniformed service that is not trained in arms. But they are trained in health care. In fact, Corps officers serve in 15 careers in a wide range of specialties within Federal agencies such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In total, Corps officers have duty stations in over 20 federal departments and agencies.
KOYUK, Alaska – United States Public Health Service Veterinarian Doctor Mary Anne Duncan examines one of two dogs owned by Koyuk residents. Duncan and USPHS Veterinarian Doctor Wanda Wilson walked through the community of 350 to examine 48 dogs and three cats. Coast Guard photo/Walter Shinn
But what do they actually do?
Careers are available in the areas of disease control and prevention; biomedical research; regulation of food, drugs, and medical devices; mental health and drug abuse; and health care delivery. USPHS has physicians, dentists, nurses, therapists, pharmacists, health services, environmental health, dietitians, engineers, veterinarians and scientists.