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History Page | Commissioned Corps of the U.S. Public Health Service Skip to main content

Our History

For more than 200 years, men and women have served on the front lines of our nation’s public health in what is today called the Commissioned Corps of the U.S. Public Health Service.

Originally created to protect the health of sailors and immigrants in the late 1700s, the USPHS Commissioned Corps' role in healthcare delivery, research, regulation, and disaster relief became critical over time.

Thanks to our legacy of service across multiple agencies and around the globe, we are now the largest public health program in the world.

Portrait of John Adams.

1798

John Adams signs into law the Act for the Relief of Sick and Disabled Seamen, which triggers the creation of marine hospitals along major American waterways.
Street view of a marine hospital.

1801

The network expands as more marine hospitals are established in major port cities from Boston to New Orleans.
Stitched logo of the U.S. Public Health and Marine Hospital Service.

1870

The Marine Hospital Service centralizes hospital administration under the leadership of the supervising surgeon, a role that is known today as the surgeon general.
Portrait of supervising surgeon John Woodworth.

1871

John Maynard Woodworth, the first supervising surgeon, adopts a military model for his medical staff, assigning a cadre of mobile, uniformed physicians to various marine hospitals.
Marine Hospital Service staff stand together.

1878

The Marine Hospital Service plays a pivotal role in thwarting the spread of global epidemic diseases like smallpox and yellow fever in the United States.
Soliders stand in formation

1889

Congress establishes the United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps within the Marine Hospital Service, organizing officers along military lines with titles and pay corresponding to Army and Navy grades.
Officers perform screening on civilians.

1902

Congress broadens the reach of the USPHS Commissioned Corps. In addition to their disease prevention duties, officers are now authorized to research human diseases, sanitation, water supplies and sewage disposal.
Cadet Nurse Corps officers wave a flag.

1944

The U.S. Public Health Service Act of 1944 broadens USPHS Commissioned Corps’ scope and paves the way for nurses, scientists, dietitians, physical therapists and sanitarians to join. By 1945, the USPHS Commissioned Corps quadruples its numbers from 625 to nearly 3,000.
Surgeon General Terry showcases tobacco report.

1964

Surgeon General Dr. Luther Terry releases a landmark report on smoking-related lung cancer and bronchitis, the first report detailing the connection between tobacco and chronic disease.
Headshot of Surgeon General Koop.

1986

Surgeon General Dr. C. Everett Koop writes “Understanding AIDS,” a USPHS Commissioned Corps brochure that is sent to all 107 million households in the U.S., the largest public health mailing ever at the time.
Public Health Service officer rides in a helicopter.

2005

More than 2,400 officers provide disaster relief to the Gulf Region amidst Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma.
Two officers in a discussion.

2008

The Department of Defense and the Department of Health and Human Services establishes the DoD-USPHS Partnership for Psychological Health, enabling USPHS Commissioned Corps officers to provide behavioral health services to military members and their families.
Public Health Service officer in protective gear.

Today

The USPHS Commissioned Corps continues to fulfill its mission to protect, promote and advance our nation’s health and safety under the leadership of the Assistant Secretary of Health and the U.S. Surgeon General.
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