by CAPT Lisa Tonrey, USPHS (ret.) and RADM Steve Solomon, USPHS (ret.)
The last two years of a pandemic, natural disasters, and humanitarian responses have pushed to the limit the capacity of the entire public health system, which has been historically underfunded and understaffed. Throughout this onslaught, the officers of the USPHS Commissioned Corps have been on the frontlines, responding to our nation’s most critical public health needs. In doing so, they have worked side by side with millions of healthcare and public health professionals across the United States.
To fulfill the mission of protecting and preserving the health of everyone in the U.S, we need a more robust and well-funded public health workforce, of which a larger and better supported Commissioned Corps will continue to be a particularly crucial part. The Commissioned Officers Foundation advocates on behalf of our officers and the entire public health workforce to ensure that current and future professionals and leaders have the numbers, training, skills, knowledge, and experience that will enable their success in that mission. We also advocate for a concerted effort to build public health and science knowledge throughout the U.S. population, the deficiencies of which have added to the tragic toll of the pandemic. We are directing our philanthropy toward these same goals.
The U.S. needs to support not only a larger Corps, but a Corps that provides ongoing educational and training opportunities for active-duty officers, as is routine in the other uniformed services. To help build and strengthen the Corps, COF advocates for a program to offer student loan forgiveness and repayment plans for officers who join either the regular or reserve Corps. Such programs existed in the past and helped create the National Health Service Corps as well as bringing into the Commissioned Corps an entire generation of nationally recognized public health leaders.
To address our Nation’s most pressing needs, we need to increase representation in the public health workforce and its leadership of people from underserved and vulnerable communities. We believe that the Commissioned Corps can serve as a model of representation, participation, and advancement, but this can only be accomplished with highly proactive outreach and recruitment along with significant financial support for students and trainees in all the Corps’ eleven categories.
COF fully supports the Surgeon General’s advisory on Confronting Health Misinformation through a national effort on science education from primary school through college to provide a basic knowledge of the principles of science and public health. The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated with alarming clarity how difficult it is for people to navigate the torrent of misinformation and disinformation to which they are constantly subjected. As a result, confusion persists, vital public health recommendations are ignored, and the public health system’s energies are diverted to the task of countering falsehoods and fantasies. A more scientifically literate population might critically examine and more likely reject deceptive information, making better informed choices about their health. During this pandemic, ignorance has been deadly.
Along with advocacy, COF will increase its philanthropic support for training and education of active-duty officers, and we will also increase the number and size of our scholarship programs for high-school and college students focused on careers in public health.
Earlier this year COF adopted the phrase “Forging Leadership for Generations” as a motto and as a guiding principle. It is with this in mind that we are focusing on the development and advancement of today’s Corps officers as well as on identifying, educating, and recruiting the next generation of officers to lead the only uniformed public health service in the world.
Your financial contribution to the Foundation will support these efforts. With your help, we can demonstrate that the Commissioned Corps and our USPHS officers are the model of the best trained, best educated, most experienced and most effective public health workforce in the world.