The Commissioned Corps Personnel System

The PHS Agencies may employ health care professionals under either of two personnel systems: The Civil Service or PHS Commissioned Corps. The personnel system used depends on the type of assignment, the needs of the program in which the assignment is located, and the individual's training and experience. Both systems offer attractive working conditions and benefits. While there are many common factors between the two systems for health professionals, the Commissioned Corps has a different set of appointment criteria, a rank/grade structure versus pay grades, and several different components not found in the Civil Service.

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Appointment Criteria

Eligibility for a commission in the Commissioned Corps of the U.S. Public Health Service is based on a specific set of appointment criteria. Several of these criteria are common to all applicants with each professional category having specific minimum professional educational requirements ranging from a bachelor's degree (in very limited categories) to a doctoral degree from a nationally accredited program of study.

The general criteria are:

Must be a United States citizen
Must be under age 44
Must meet medical requirements
Must pass initial suitability investigation

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Professional Categories

PHS has a specific mission and assigns commissioned officers in positions consistent with that mission. All officers, depending upon their qualifying degrees, are members of one of the 11 professional categories listed below.

Scientist (health related)
Sanitarian/Environmental Health
Therapist (Physical, Occupational, Speech Pathology and/or Audiology)
Health Services*

* Clinical Psychology, Computer Science, Dental Hygiene, Medical (Health) Record Administration, Public Health, Hospital Administration, Medical Technology, Optometry, Physician Assistant, Podiatry, Social Work.

In addition to the 11 categories, an operational group based on a specific function was recently formed and is composed of members from more than one category. The Research Officer Group's (ROG) specific function is the conduct of original research. Requirements for membership in ROG are: a doctoral degree and participation in a program of original research with an external scientific review system.

There are Professional Category Points of Contact within the Division of Commissioned Personnel who can provide more information.

Chief Professional Officers

The Surgeon General appoints Chief Professional Officers (CPOs) in each of the 11 professional categories. Four of the 11 CPOs are flag grade by statute (dental, engineer, nurse and, pharmacist). Appointment as a CPO is in addition to the responsibilities of the individual's permanent duty assignment. CPOs advise the Surgeon General on issues in their respective professional areas. In addition, the CPO serves as a distinguished example to all officers in his/her professional category. The CPO is expected to advocate and promote professional development and foster the highest levels of commitment and integrity for officers serving in the represented professional category. Each of the 11 professional disciplines has a Professional Advisory Committee (PAC) which advises the Surgeon General on matters of importance to the discipline and to the PHS.
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Each PHS officer holds a permanent grade and may also hold a similar or higher temporary grade. Officers holding temporary grades above O-6 are referred to as flag grade officers.

The PHS Act establishes the formal designations of grades within the commissioned corps. However, traditionally the equivalent Navy ranks are used when referring orally to PHS officers. Table 1 shows the official designation of grades in the PHS, the full title of the equivalent Navy rank, and the Navy abbreviation of that rank.

Table 1. Grades and Titles of Public Health Service Officers, and Equivalent Navy Ranks

Flag Grades PHS Designation Navy Equivalent Abbreviation
0-10 Assistant Secretary for Health Admiral ADM
0-9 Surgeon General Vice Admiral VADM
0-8 Deputy Surgeon General Rear Admiral RADM
0-8 Assistant Surgeon General Rear Admiral(upper) RADM
0-7 Assistant Surgeon General Rear Admiral(lower) RADM

Other Grades
0-6 Director Captain CAPT
0-5 Senior Commander CDR
0-4 Full Lieutenant Commander LCDR
0-3 Senior Assistant Lieutenant LT
0-2 Assistant Lieutenant Junior Grade LTJG
0-1 Junior Assistant Ensign ENS

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The Regular Corps

The regular corps is the career component of the U.S. Public Health Service (PHS) Commissioned Corps. Reserve corps, career-oriented officers who have long-term commitments to the mission and goals of the Service may apply for assimilation into the regular corps. Before applying for assimilation an officer must have completed a minimum of 4 years of continuous active duty in his/her current tour of duty.

The Active Reserve Corps

The active reserve corps supplements the regular corps and may expand or contract according to the needs and resources of the Service. All newly-appointed officers are commissioned in the reserve corps and serve a 3-year probationary period. Unsatisfactory or unsuitable performers may be terminated during this period.

The Inactive Reserve Corps (IRC)

An inactive reserve corps serves to function as a pool of health professionals available to meet the needs of the service for short duration staffing shortages, or emergency situations. Members of the inactive reserve may be called to active duty for periods of up to 120 days to meet these needs. Additional information is available from the Division of Commissioned Personnel for current members of the IRC.

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last modified 4/13/99

William Knight