PHS Commissioned Corps Celebrates 125 Years

The PHS Commissioned Corps celebrated its 125th birthday on January 4th, 2014. Established by an act of Congress signed into law by President Grover Cleveland on this date in 1889, the PHS Commissioned Corps traces its origins to 1798. In 1798, President John Adams signed into law an Act for the Relief of Sick and Disabled Seamen establishing the Marine Hospital Service that became the forerunner of the Public Health Service.

In the aftermath of the Civil War, the Marine Hospital Service was reorganized under the first Supervising Surgeon, John Maynard Woodworth. Woodworth had served as the surgeon of General Sherman's march to the sea during the War. Supervising Surgeon Woodworth organized the Marine Hospital Service along military lines and put his physicians in uniform. This uniformed corps of public health physicians was codified into law in 1889.

Today's PHS Commissioned Corps is a mission-oriented force-in-being consisting of some 6800 hundred public health specialists led by the Surgeon General, Vice Admiral Regina Benjamin. Corps officers serve throughout the federal government in a variety of assignments that include direct clinical care to the nation's most underserved populations, support for Department of Defense health care programs, medical research, administration and regulatory affairs.

Corps officers also respond to public health emergencies. PHS officers have deployed to assist with recovery operations in New York and New Jersey following superstorm Sandy; to Newton, Connecticut to assist with mental health counseling following the Sandy Hook school shootings; and to Saipan in the Northern Marianas Islands to assist with administration and health care for a troubled medical center. While few in number, the PHS Commissioned Corps is an effective public health force multiplier whose officers provide leadership expertise across the broad spectrum of public health operations and administration.

Yet the PHS Commissioned Corps remains one of the most unheralded and unknown components of the federal government - a situation the Commissioned Officers Association of the U.S. Public Health Service is determined to overcome.

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2013 USPHS Scientific and Training Symposium

2013 Dependent Scholarship Winners

Six students won funding through the 2013 PHS Commissioned Officers Foundation’s Dependent Scholarship program. Eligible applicants were spouses, children and grandchildren of active duty or retired members of the COF affiliate, the Commissioned Officers Association.

Twelve students, mostly sons and daughters of PHS officers, applied for funding. The Selection Committee, composed of active duty and retired officers, scored each application. The reviewers chose the student with the highest score as this year’s winner of the Ronald Lessing Memorial Scholarship, which comes with a cash prize of $1,000. The award is named in honor of Ronald Lessing, the brother of CAPT Melvin Lessing, USPHS (Ret.).


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