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Vol. LIX, No. 19
September 21, 2007
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'Best Kept Secret' No Longer
NIH Hosts First Commissioned Corps Awareness Day


  Lcdr. Alison Adams-McLean (l), a registered nurse in the Commissioned Corps, with potential recruit  
  Lcdr. Alison Adams-McLean (l), a registered nurse in the Commissioned Corps, with potential recruit  
It takes more than 100-degree heat to wilt a passion for public health. Scores of officers from the Public Health Service Commissioned Corps gathered at NIH on Aug. 8 to share the word on health education, disease prevention and career opportunities. Officers from NIH and other agencies were out in force.

"This is the very first time we've had Commissioned Corps Awareness Day," Rear Admiral Richard Wyatt said in opening remarks. "I assure you that NIH is in a position where the corps can grow. [NIH director] Dr. Zerhouni and the senior leadership are very supportive."

The patio of Bldg. 31 thronged with officers in crisp khakis and summer whites as students and employees made the rounds. Two full-sized posters beckoned to folks on lunch break and 11 tables were set up to present the breadth of corps activity. The event also offered free blood-pressure screening and a chance to meet corps members.

Blood pressure screening offers a chance to meet corps members. Capt. Glen Stonebraker (r), an engineer with ORF, describes career advantages to joining the Commissioned Corps.
Left: Blood pressure screening offers a chance to meet corps members. Right: Capt. Glen Stonebraker (r), an engineer with ORF, describes career advantages to joining the Commissioned Corps.

"With your background," Lt. Robert Horsch told an attendee keen on environmental health, "there are a lot of avenues you could take. To join, you'd first need a degree from an accredited program." That's one clue to the corps' elite reputation: every successful recruit already has a qualifying degree and receives an officer's commission.

"The corps used to be the best-kept secret," said Lcdr. Alison Adams-McLean of NIDDK, "but over the last 5 years, we've become more visible. As the needs of the nation changed, the need for our specialties increased and the government started looking at us as being able to help." Before joining, Adams-McLean worked 16 years as an ICU nurse in the Clinical Center. "Say you're a nurse; you can continue to be [one] and do some public health service. That's the great thing about it."

After the tsunami and earthquake of 2004/2005, corps nurses were detailed from NIH to National Naval Medical Center to cover for nurses deployed to USNS Comfort, a hospital ship. The Comfort is currently visiting 12 Latin American and Caribbean countries; NIH's corps nurses-along with physicians, dentists and others-are on board.

"It's an age-old mission now being newly reemphasized," said Capt. Glen Stonebraker, an engineer with the Office of Research Facilities. He described career advantages to joining the corps: 20 years to retirement for 50 percent of base pay; 30 years for 75 percent; and "we get essentially free health care for me and my dependents at military health care facilities, the closest of which is the National Naval Medical Center. I've also gotten care at Walter Reed and other facilities.

Capt. Karen Siegel (r) shares information on the corps’ specialties in therapy, including occupational, physical and speech.
The pharmacists’ table (foreground), as well as the dentists’ corner, welcomes questions.
Top: Capt. Karen Siegel (r) shares information on the corps’ specialties in therapy, including occupational, physical and speech.

Bottom: The pharmacists’ table (foreground), as well as the dentists’ corner, welcomes questions.

"All four of my kids were born [at Navy]," Stonebraker continued, "and the biggest bill we got was for $27." Then there's the esprit: "For that, a function like this helps. In past years, you were always associated with your agency, but now there's increasing awareness that you're part of a force that has a larger national mission. It's a team."

The team includes more than 6,000 professionals, led by the Surgeon General. They are doctors, nurses, dentists, veterinarians, scientists, environmental health officers, engineers, dietitians, pharmacists, mental health professionals (including social workers and psychologists) and therapists (occupational, physical, speech and others). But unlike other uniformed services, this corps isn't armed. Officers serve throughout HHS, in agencies like the Indian Health Service, CDC, FDA and NIH, as well as other federal agencies.

Cdr. Doris Ravenell-Brown, corps liaison officer at NIH, said this would be the first of many events. "We used to have a visibility problem- we used to be 'the few, the proud, the unknown.' We are working to change that."

She paused to call out a winning raffle prize: a month's free pass to the gym. Couch potato advisory: the corps has an ongoing fitness requirement.

Ravenell-Brown herself was clad in gleaming summer whites. "I proudly wear my uniform every day," she said. "When I stop off at the grocery store, people ask if I'm in the Navy. I tell them, 'No, I'm in the Commissioned Corps and our mission is promoting, advancing and protecting the nation's health.' I wear my uniform because I'm proud to be a commissioned officer and, more importantly, to serve the people in our nation." NIH Record Icon

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