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CAPT Jill Shugart | Commissioned Corps of the U.S. Public Health Service Skip to main content

CAPT Jill Shugart

September 2023 Officer Spotlight

CAPT Jill Shugart is an Environmental Health Officer stationed in Atlanta, Georgia. While she is officially an employee of the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), her unique role is to serve as the Associate Director for Emergency Management for both ATSDR and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) National Center for Environmental Health. She works closely across several ATSDR programs and centers within CDC on cross-cutting preparedness, response, and recovery issues related to environmental public health. She has a very supportive spouse and a 5 ½-year-old daughter.

In 1999, while looking to fulfill her environmental health internship to graduate, CAPT Shugart’s professor happened to have a stack of paper applications for the U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS) Commissioned Corps Junior Commissioned Officer Student Training and Extern Program (JRCOSTEP) in her office. She encouraged CAPT Shugart to apply – warning that it would definitely be an adventure. Three months later, she was offered the opportunity of a lifetime – to move to Parker, Arizona, join the USPHS Commissioned Corps, and serve the Colorado River Indian Tribes while working for the Indian Health Service (IHS). CAPT Shugart remarks, “I fell in love with public health and the uniform during my summer tour. My assignment gave me a sense of purpose and my JRCOSTEP mentor was very supportive, often encouraging me to stay in the USPHS Commissioned Corps.” CAPT Shugart did rejoin the USPHS Commissioned Corps after completing graduate school and a fellowship with the CDC’s National Center for Environmental Health. CAPT Shugart shares, “While at CDC, I worked with several Public Health Service officers who gave me the best advice of my career: It’s great that you have gotten to work at headquarters, but you need to go and get more field experience.” In 2003, she once again moved to Arizona with the Indian Health Service, but this time to serve both the Hopi and Kaibab Paiute Tribes while stationed in Polacca, Arizona.

CAPT Shugart feels very fortunate that she has had a diverse and unique career. She has served in seven duty stations across five states (Arizona, Kansas, Missouri, Florida, and Georgia) and four agencies (IHS, ATSDR, Administration for Strategic Preparedness and Response, and CDC). She also had the honor of serving as a Safety Officer in the 2014 CDC Ebola response in Sierra Leone, as a Chief of Staff for the CDC COVID-19 response, and as the Environmental Health Officer Professional Advisory Committee Chair. CAPT Shugart reflects: “One of my fondest memories is with one of my former mentors, retired RADM John Babb, in 2008. I saw him at a meeting in Kansas City, Missouri. He pulled me aside and said that the USPHS Commissioned Corps Office of Force Readiness and Deployment was going to recruit Public Health Service officers for a new humanitarian assistance mission. The Continuing Promise mission was a joint field mission with the Department of Defense in Central America and they were looking for an Environmental Health Officer (EHO). By the time I had gotten back to my office, in less than 20 minutes, he had notified my supervisor that I would be joining Team #1 on the USS Boxer as the sole EHO for the mission. It was an incredible experience and the first time I deployed with all of the armed forces. I learned a lot of lessons during that mission that I have been able to apply throughout my career.”

In 2005, while stationed on the Hopi Indian Reservation, CAPT Shugart watched images coming in from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. Deeply moved by her strong sense of service and nostalgia from recently graduating from Tulane University’s School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine in 2002, she could not simply stand by. As the Office of Force Readiness and Deployment (OFRD) began sending rapid-fire emails asking for volunteers, CAPT Shugart quickly replied and stated she was ready to go. She headed to the airport in less than three days full of adrenaline, but she was also uncertain having never deployed with USPHS Commissioned Corps before. Several flights later, she finally made it to an outdoor co-ed tent in a field just outside of New Orleans, Louisiana, and got right to work. After working for several days conducting a variety of food, water, and school environmental health inspections, CAPT Shugart got a call from the Incident Command instructing her to get the team back to Base Camp immediately due to incoming Hurricane Rita. CAPT Shugart stated: “Before I knew it, we were re-located in a piano classroom at a school for the blind in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. We barely made it before the tornadoes and torrential downpours ensued. The rest of the deployment was spent commuting back and forth between Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and the Jefferson Parish Health Unit in Metairie, Louisiana, conducting re-opening inspections to try and get communities back to their normal routines as quickly as possible.”

As fate would have it, CAPT Shugart had two distinct deployments where she responded to two separate hurricanes during each tour. In 2008, she deployed as a CDC liaison to the Incident Response Coordination Team - Advanced for Hurricane Gustav at the Texas Department of State Health Services as they were bracing for impact. CAPT Shugart said: “My Department of Health and Human Services colleagues and I set up the Joint Field Office and assisted with pre-staging and consultation of critical health considerations. As we got through Hurricane Gustav, Hurricane Ike hit and added to the damage in Louisiana and in Texas. Because of my environmental health background and experience during Hurricane Katrina, the CDC deployed me from Texas to Louisiana and once again I was assigned to the Jefferson Parish Health Unit. We conducted environmental health inspections so the local health staff could assess their own needs. We re-opened facilities on their behalf to help their communities get back to work and school. These deployments, although challenging, were also exhilarating and cemented my career in emergency preparedness, response, and recovery.”

When asked what being a Public Health Service officer means to her, CAPT Shugart expresses: “Being a Public Health Service officer comes with an inherent responsibility to serve with honor and to enhance public health missions wherever you are stationed or deployed. To be able to make an impact on domestic and global public health needs is a privilege.”

When reflecting on what wisdom she would impart on any Public Health Service officer coming into the USPHS Commissioned Corps, or any person wanting to live a life of public service, CAPT Shugart stated that being in the USPHS Commissioned Corps is not always easy. Saying yes to a new opportunity or trying something different such as a new assignment or agency may feel challenging, but it is worth it. Taking the skills you have already learned and applying them in a different way will help build your competencies and leadership abilities. Stretch assignments are critical for growth. You never know when something you learned from a previous assignment or deployment will come in handy, but it will be right on time. CAPT Shugart concludes: “Always pay it forward. Share your knowledge. Be a mentor and have a mentor. No one can do this work alone. At the end of my service in the USPHS Commissioned Corps, I would be happy to have made any difference at all, however small. I am grateful for this journey.” 

My name is CAPT Jill Shugart and Passion is #WhyIServe.

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