Pharmacists Improving the Nation’s Health
For pharmacy students who fel the cal to public service after graduation, a carer in the US Public Health Service (USPHS) Commisioned Corps is a good option. The corps offers a setting where pharmacists put their knowledge into practice to help others and improve the overall health of the country.
HISTORY OF PUBLIC SERVICE
The Commissioned Corps was formally established in 1889 as the uniformed services branch of the Marine Hospital Service. Its original mission was to protect US citizens from infectious diseases—such as smallpox and yellow fever— through immunization and quarantine.
As the nation’s public health needs grew, so did the corps. Official duties over the years have included inspecting immigrants entering the country, working to improve sanitation conditions, and taking the lead in researching human diseases. Corps officers assisted in the federal government’s response to the anthrax and terrorist attacks in 2001, hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005, and the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti in 2009.
Today, the USPHS Commissioned Corps consists of more than 6000 full-time, highly-skilled professionals from a number of health care fields. All pharmacists in the corps are uniformed officers, and they serve throughout the US Department of Health and Human Services and in other federal agencies (see page 24).
Rear Admiral Scott F. Giberson, assistant surgeon general and chief pharmacy officer, USPHS Commissioned Corps, says, “PHS Pharmacy allows for unparalleled diversity and opportunity. Our pharmacists become an integral part of a unique career path that can involve advanced pharmacy practice, health policy development, emergency and humanitarian response, public health leadership, global health, and much more.”
According to the Commissioned Corps Web site, the mission of the corps is to provide for the health and safety of the nation through “rapid and effective response to public health needs, leadership and excellence in public health practices, and advancement of public health science.”
Captain Carmen Clelland, PharmD, MPA, director of the Health Professions Support Branch of the Indian Health Service (IHS), says that the majority of career opportunities in the corps are focused on patient care and counseling. Captain Clelland explains, “There are many opportunities for recent graduates with the corps. Primary care, ambulatory care, and institutional practice opportunities include working with the IHS, Division of Immigration Health Services, and US Coast Guard. Many initiatives of these 3 organizations allow pharmacists to utilize their clinical skills recently learned in pharmacy school.”
For recent graduates who are interested in policymaking, academia, or administration, other agencies can provide important employment opportunities. The FDA, for example, has many regulatory positions for which pharmacists provide their expertise and knowledge. Other agencies, such as the Health Care Financing Administration, Health Resource and Services Administration, National Institutes of Health, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, also utilize corps pharmacists, although Clelland says that many of these positions are not entry level.
To become a member of the Commissioned Corps, pharmacy graduates need to meet a number of basic qualifications. Candidates must be citizens of the United States, be aged 44 years or younger, and pass a physical examination.
Pharmacy graduates also need to hold a Bachelor of Science in Pharmacy or a Doctor of Pharmacy degree from a program accredited by the American Council on Pharmaceutical Education. Corps candidates need a current, valid, and unrestricted pharmacy license for 1 of the 50 states; Washington, DC; Puerto Rico; the US Virgin Islands; or Guam. Recent pharmacy graduates who do not yet have a valid license may still apply to the corps, but will be appointed for a limited tour of duty until licensure is complete.
Once accepted into the Commissioned Corps, the required length of service is 2 years with the same agency. If a pharmacist qualifies for and receives a sign-on bonus, the length of service is 4 years at the initial duty station. After that term, corps pharmacists have the opportunity to apply for positions at different agencies, so that they can continue to grow professionally.
The benefits of a career with the Commissioned Corps are generous. According to the USPHS Commissioned Corps Web site, new pharmacists who enroll in the corps receive the following benefits:
• Competitive starting pay that increases with promotions and years of service
• Free medical and dental care
• Low-cost medical care for family members
• Tax-free housing and meal allowances
• 30 days paid vacation, beginning the first year
• Paid sick leave
• Paid maternity leave
• Paid federal holidays
• Malpractice insurance coverage
• Retirement plan with benefits eligibility after 20 years of service
• Thrift Savings Plan
• Low-cost life insurance
For newly commissioned pharmacists, the Commissioned Corps offers a $30,000 accession bonus for signing a 4-year active duty agreement. Pharmacists serving in the corps may also be eligible for an annual $15,000 retention bonus.
In addition to these benefits, the USPHS will cover moving expenses incurred during relocation as well as job-related travel expenses. In recognition of the financial burden a pharmacy student accepts by going through professional schooling, the USPHS, in coordination with other federal agencies, also offers loan repayment and other educational and family support programs for those who qualify.
Captain Clelland notes that there are nonmonetary benefits to a career in the corps as well. Flexibility and career growth are 2 big benefits—in his 20-year career with the IHS, Captain Clelland has served in both rural and urban settings, and has had the opportunity to take positions in patient care, administration, and policymaking.
“One other unique quality that may not be experienced by other personnel systems is the esprit de corp that develops,” Captain Clelland explains. “This is especially true among the pharmacy profession within the corps. In the IHS we have over 600 pharmacists, of whom 500 are corps pharmacists. This makes a statement regarding the relationship and the commitment to the ideals of the USPHS and the corps.”
Although the Commissioned Corps maintains a low profile in the national consciousness, it provides valuable services to benefit public health in our country and around the world. Rear Admiral Giberson says, “We [in the Commissioned Corps] desire professionals and pharmacists that want to serve a mission, become part of something special, and that want to make a difference in the lives of people.”
In addition to the many career opportunities available after graduation, the Commissioned Corps also has programs for current students. Students who have completed at least 1 year of study in a master’s or doctoral program or 2 years in a professionally accredited bachelor’s program may qualify for the Junior Commissioned Officer Student Training and Extern Program (JRCOSTEP). JRCOSTEP participants work in the same types of positions as commissioned officers, and enjoy some of the same benefits. Assignments in JRCOSTEP last from 31 to 120 days, and are scheduled during school breaks and the summer months. Students are paid for their time and are not obligated to join the corps upon graduation.
A similar program, the Senior Commissioned Officer Student Training and Extern Program (SRCOSTEP), was created for full-time students entering their last year of professional training in an accredited program. SRCOSTEP participants receive financial assistance to complete school, and agree to serve in the corps after graduation for twice the amount of time for which they received assistance. Students interested in the JRCOSTEP and SRCOSTEP programs can check their eligibility at https://dcpweb.psc.gov/ rab/scripts/app_main_menu.htm
TAKING THE NEXT STEP
The Commissioned Corps recently established a call center specifically to answer questions about careers with the corps. Pharmacy students who are interested in careers with the USPHS Commissioned Corps can call 800-279-1605 for more information. To apply for a position online, visit www.usphs.gov/applynow/
USPHS Commissioned Corps pharmacy officers work in a variety of agencies, offices, bureaus, and departments in the federal government, including the following:
Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ)
AHRQ sponsors, conducts, and disseminates health care research designed to provide the public with information that will lead to healthier choices. The AHRQ conducts research that addresses topics such as the cost, quality, and accessibility of health care services in the United States, patient safety, and medication errors.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
The CDC exists to generate the information and tools that people and communities in the United States and around the world need to protect their health. The agency accomplishes this goal by monitoring public health, investigating health problems, conducting research, and serving as advocates for healthy behaviors, strategies, and environments.
Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS)
The mission of CMS is to ensure effective health care coverage and quality patient care for beneficiaries of Medicare and Medicaid. CMS administers programs such as the State Children’s Health Insurance Program; the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act; and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.
Department of Homeland Security
The Department of Homeland Security guards the nation against outside threats, and plays a critical role in helping communities through all stages of man-made or natural disasters, from preparation to response to long-term recovery. This agency has also taken the lead in coordinating the government’s response to the H1N1 virus.
Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
The FDA is responsible for protecting public health by assuring the safety of drugs, vaccines, medical devices, the nation’s food supply, cosmetics, dietary supplements, and products that give off radiation. The FDA also advances public health by helping speed product innovation and by providing the public with accurate, science-based information on medicines and foods. www.fda.gov
Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA)
The HRSA is the primary federal agency responsible for improving access to health care services for people who are uninsured, isolated, or medically vulnerable. Comprising 3 bureaus and 13 offices, the HRSA has numerous responsibilities, including granting financial support to health care providers, helping provide health insurance to needy populations, overseeing organ donations, and compensating individuals harmed by vaccination.
Indian Health Service (IHS)
The IHS, an agency within the Department of Health and Human Services, is responsible for providing federal health services to American Indians and Alaska Natives. The IHS is the principal federal health care provider and health advocate for American Indian people, and its goal is to raise their health status to the highest possible level.