The USPHS website correctly states, “For more than 200 years, the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps has been our Nation's frontline protecting against the spread of disease from sailors returning from foreign ports, maintaining the health of immigrants entering the country and supporting communities affected by natural and manmade disasters.”
The Public Health Service traces its roots back to 1798 and the Marine Hospital Fund. President John Adams signed into law the Act for the Relief of Sick and Disabled Seamen. It started a system of hospitals providing care for merchant sailors arriving in U.S. ports. The Act was extended to the U.S. Navy.
In 1870, administration of the system was brought under the auspices of the Marine Hospital Service led by Supervising Surgeon (later called Surgeon General) John Maynard Woodworth. Dr. Woodworth used a military model to standardize applications, uniforms, and mobility. Medical officers were sent around the country to combat outbreaks such as smallpox, yellow fever, cholera, and more. Such epidemics led to the National Quarantine Act of 1878.
In 1889, the Commissioned Corps was recognized as the official uniformed service of the Marine Hospital Service. By 1902, the name changed to the Public Health and Marine Hospital Service. Officers added to their responsibilities the screening of immigrants. In 1912, the name changed again to the Public Health Service. PHS powers grew to preventing and mitigating human diseases, sanitation, water supplies, and sewage disposal. Knowing we needed more experts with different backgrounds, the Commissioned Corps added engineers, scientists, nurses, dentists, and others in the 1930s and 1940s.
Though few people know about it, the U.S. Public Health Service continues to influence the lives of millions of Americans each day. Commissioned Corps officers are spread throughout 23 federal agencies, including the Indian Health Service, Food and Drug Administration, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Bureau of Prisons. Officers also serve in the Department of Defense and with states and foreign countries.
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Williams, Ralph C. The United States Public Health Service, 1798–1950. Washington, DC: Commissioned Officers Association of the United States Public Health Service, 1951. Print.
Furman, Bess. A Profile of the United States Public Health Service, 1798–1948. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare, 1973. Print.
Mullan, Fitzhugh. Plagues and Politics: The Story of the United States Public Health Service. New York, NY: Basic Books, 1989. Print.
Fortuine, Robert A. A Century of Adventure in Northern Health: The Public Health Service Commissioned Corps in Alaska (1879-1978). Landover, MD: PHS Commissioned Officers Foundation for the Advancement of Public Health, 2006. Print.
Rife, James P. and Dellapena, Alan J. Caring & Curing: A History of the Indian Health Service. Landover, MD: PHS Commissioned Officers Foundation for the Advancement of Public Health, 2009. Print.
Anderson, John F. “Organization, Powers, and Duties of the United States Public Health Service Today.” American Journal of Public Health 3.9 (September 1913): 845-852. (Article)
Dublin, Louis I. “Public Health Service—A Sound Investment.” American Journal of Public Health and the Nations Health 21.5 (May 1931): 479-490. (Article)
Fiset, Louis. “Medical Care for Interned Enemy Aliens: A Role for the US Public Health Service in World War II.” American Journal of Public Health 93.10 (October 2003): 1644-1654. (Article)
Michael, Jerrold M. “The National Board of Health: 1879-1883.” Public Health Reports 126.1 (Jan/Feb 2011): 123-128.
Scheele, Leonard A. “The Past and Future of the Public Health Service.” American Journal of Public Health and the Nations Health 39.3 (March 1949): 293-302. (Article)
History of Medicine Division, NIH National Library of Medicine: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/hmd/
U.S. Marine Hospital in Louisville, Kentucky: http://www.marinehospital.org/
The Foundation is a 501(c)(3) organization. All donations are fully tax-deductible as charitable donations for income tax purposes. Donations are recognized at the annual Public Health Symposium and in the newsletter Frontline.
Children and spouses of COA members can apply for money to support undergraduate or graduate education. More information is available on the Scholarship page.
Established in honor of RADM Jerrold M. Michael (Ret.), this program provides PHS officers financial assistance for continuing education. More about the Fellowship.
The affiliated Commissioned Officers Association won the opportunity for USPHS officers to transfer education benefits to children and/or a spouse. Learn more about eligibility and the process at the GI Bill website.
The Public Health Service traces its roots back to 1798 and the Marine Hospital Service. For more than 125 years, the USPHS Commissioned Corps has been a force of skilled professionals who protect, promote, and advance the health and safety of our Nation.