USPHS: Caring for the Nation

Aimee Simone, Assistant Editor
Published Online: Wednesday, May 14, 2014

A pharmacy career in the United Sates Public Health Service Commissioned Corps may be the right fit for students fueled by a passion to care for underserved patients in diverse settings.
The United States Public Health Service (USPHS) Commissioned Corps exists to “protect, promote, and advance the health and safety of our Nation.” Under the leadership of the surgeon general, the more than 6500 members of the Commissioned Corps serve in public health leadership and clinical service roles within federal government agencies.

Diverse Possibilities

USPHS pharmacy officers can perform much of the same tasks as pharmacists in other settings, but they also have the opportunity to explore a unique career through the wide variety of positions available. Pharmacists in the Corps care for patients, review, approve, and monitor new drugs, conduct research, develop and implement health care policy, and assist in public health emergencies.

“PHS Pharmacy allows for unparalleled diversity and opportunity,” says Rear Admiral Scott F. Giberson, assistant surgeon general and chief pharmacy officer, USPHS Commissioned Corps. “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.”

USPHS pharmacists are uniformed officers who serve throughout the US Department of Health and Human Services and other federal agencies, including the Indian Health Service, the FDA, Federal Bureau of Prisons, and the Department of Homeland Security.

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 Indian Health Service, Federal Bureau of Prisons, Department of Homeland Security, National Institutes of Health, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, also utilize Corps pharmacists, although many of these positions are not entry level.

Competitive Perks

In addition to unique opportunities, the Commissioned Corps also provides pharmacy officers with generous benefits. Newly enrolled pharmacists receive competitive starting pay, free medical and dental care for the pharmacist and low-cost medical care for family members, 30 days of paid vacation, and paid sick and maternity leave. 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.

A career in the Corps can also offer nonmonetary benefits.

“[Pharmacists] also experience a balance between work and life due to remarkable benefits as Commissioned Corps officers,” says Giberson.

Pharmacy officers also have the flexibility to grow their career, serving in multiple settings and positions throughout their employment.

Joining the Team

To become a member of the Commissioned Corps, pharmacy graduates must be US citizens, be under the age of 44 years, and pass a physical examination.

In addition, USPHS pharmacists need to have a pharmacy degree from a program accredited by the American Council on Pharmaceutical Education, as well as a current, unrestricted, and valid 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.

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 who 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 http://www.usphs.gov/apply/apply.aspx.

Sidebar: Starting Early

Students who are interested in enrolling with the Corps can also participate in programs before graduation. 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 90 days, and are scheduled during school breaks and 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 http://www.usphs.gov/student/default.aspx.

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