by Rear Admiral Steve Solomon, MD, FACP, FIDSA, USPHS (ret.)
Active duty officers have already completed over 9,000 deployments during the COVID-19 pandemic, demonstrating their commitment and dedication to the nation’s health every day. In addition, there are thousands of retired USPHS officers who are working in local, state and Federal public health agencies, providing clinical care, teaching and doing research in academic institutions, working as executives and scientists in the pharmaceutical and health services industries, and working in their communities in a wide variety of roles. Some retired officers, like Dr. Anthony Fauci, have become global icons of scientific probity and service in the public interest. Like Dr. Fauci, many of us who found rewarding careers in public health are recognizing the need to go one step beyond our current efforts. The public health system is under tremendous strain, following many years of cutbacks in personnel and resources. That the public health response has been more successful than we might have expected speaks directly to the extraordinary efforts of career professionals across the United States, prominent among whom are active duty and retired members of the USPHS Commissioned Corps. But it is not just a lack of resources and support that must be overcome. The scientific basis and policy credibility of the public health system are under siege, to an extent never seen before. Public health officials have been threatened at their workplaces and at their homes. Doubt has been cast on documented scientific findings. Public health recommendations of proven efficacy have been ignored and ridiculed. The public has been confused, sometimes deliberately so, and trust in the public health system has never been lower or more fragile. The Commissioned Officers Foundation for the Advancement of Public Health (COF) was established in 2000 as a companion organization to the Commissioned Officers Association (COA) for the purpose of “building leadership in public health through advocacy, education, research, partnerships and program support” (http://www.phscof.org/mission-vision-and-strategic-goals.html). For 20 years, COF has pursued many worthwhile endeavors.
We continue to provide scholarships and grants to active duty officers and their dependents. We provide grants to non-profit organizations for a wide variety of activities supporting public health efforts in communities across the United States. Each year, we sponsor the USPHS Scientific & Training Symposium, which draws over 1,300 attendees. As the COF Board of Trustees considers our priorities for 2021, we are determining what our role should be in supporting the public health system to which we devoted our working lives. And we need your help. We want to engage with retired USPHS officers who are willing to work with us as we formulate our plans.
Perhaps that will be in education to help overcome vaccine hesitancy for a proven effective COVID vaccine. Perhaps it will be in advocacy for a more robust public health system with greater protections for its scientific independence. Perhaps it will be in advanced training for active duty officers with the specific goal of promoting the next generation of leaders emulating Dr. Fauci. Or it could be an idea or a direction you have thought about and would like to be involved in pursuing. If you’re willing to offer your ideas and get engaged with our work, please send us a note with your suggestions and contact information to [email protected], with the subject line “Future of Public Health.” We hope to hear from you soon. Calling Retired Officers to Engage with COF October 2020.