Diverse positions are available in the United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps for those who are interested in pursuing a pharmacy career in military.
The mission of the United States Public Health Service (USPHS) Commissioned 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.”
The great diversity of positions available in the Commissioned Corps means that military pharmacists, and even current students, can help to meet this goal with a career path tailored to their own interests and strengths.
FINDING A NICHE
Currently, 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 in the US Department of Health and Human Services and other federal agencies.
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.”
Captain Carmen Clelland, PharmD, MPA, director of the Health Professions Support Branch of the Indian Health Service, 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 Indian Health Service, 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 policy making, academia, or administration, other agencies can provide important employment opportunities. The FDA, 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, though Clelland says that many of these positions are not entry level.
To become a member of the Commissioned Corps, pharmacy graduates must be US citizens, be 44 years or younger, and pass a physical examination.
Pharmacy graduates also need to hold a degree from a program accredited by the American Council on Pharmaceutical Education. Corps candidates need a current, valid, and unrestricted pharmacy license for one 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.
REAPING THE BENEFITS
The benefits of a career with the Commissioned Corps are generous. New pharmacists who enroll receive competitive starting pay, free medical and dental care for the pharmacist and low-cost medical care for family members, taxfree housing and meal allowances, 30 days’ paid vacation, and paid sick and maternity leave.
For newly commissioned pharmacists, the Corps offers a $30,000 accession bonus for signing a 4-year active-duty agreement. Pharmacists 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. In recognition of the financial burden a pharmacy student accepts by going through professional schooling, the USPHS 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 to a career in the Corps.
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 want to make a difference in the lives of people.”
Pharmacy students who are interested in careers with the USPHS Commissioned Corps can call 800-279-1605 for more information or visit www.usphs.gov/applynow/.
The Commissioned Corps also has programs exclusively 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). 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 the 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.
Three outstanding military pharmacists were recently recognized for their dedication to their patients and public health at the Next-Generation PharmacistTM Awards, a prestigious annual awards program presented by Pharmacy Times and Parata Systems. You can read profiles of all 3 Military Pharmacist of the Year finalists at http://phrmcyt.ms/oJIPGU. For more details about the winners, including Military Pharmacist of the Year and 2011 Next-Generation Pharmacist TM winner Major Jeffrey Neigh, PharmD, BCPS, visit http://phrmcyt.ms/ pHzJOh.