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CDR Catherine Rockwell | Commissioned Corps of the U.S. Public Health Service Skip to main content

CDR Catherine Rockwell

May 2024 Officer Spotlight

Public health is one of society’s greatest investments. The preamble of the U.S. Constitution states that one of its overriding purposes is to ‘promote the general welfare’ — advancing the well-being of its citizens through, among other things, public health. As Public Health Service officers, we embody that purpose – one of service to community, whether that community is local or global.

CDR Catherine Rockwell is a senior public health advisor in the Office of Public Health Science at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (USDA FSIS). She also serves as the USPHS Commissioned Corps Liaison to FSIS, providing crucial administrative support to Public Health Service officers, their supervisors, and the agency. FSIS is a regulatory agency and part of a science-based national system ensuring food safety and food defense. FSIS protects the public’s health by ensuring that meat, poultry, and egg products are safe, wholesome, and properly labeled.

CDR Rockwell has served in various food safety roles in FSIS over the past 19 years, including field operations, training, policy, and applied epidemiology. CDR Rockwell has led multidisciplinary teams who apply the latest science to modernize inspection and sampling as well as protect consumers from foodborne illness. She has worked on various agency initiatives to advance sampling and revise policy, including the U.S. National Residue Program to test meat and poultry for antibiotics and chemical residues, modernizing poultry slaughter inspection procedures, and developing guidance to provide the meat industry with best practices to produce food.

Before joining the U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS) Commissioned Corps, she worked in the private sector as a clinical veterinarian, providing preventive medicine and acute medical and surgical care to companion animals. She continues to practice and maintain clinical competency for deployment because of her love of clinical veterinary medicine and connecting with pet owners.

In 2005, CDR Rockwell commissioned as a veterinary officer into the USPHS Commissioned Corps. She began her first assignment at the USDA FSIS, serving as a veterinarian in meat and poultry slaughter and processing plants. Her long-standing 19-year career at FSIS has given her opportunities to work in several FSIS program areas — from field operations and inspection, training inspectors in a classroom setting, policy development, to now science application – with each experience complementing the next.

As a FSIS National Antimicrobial Resistance and Monitoring System team member and veterinarian,   CDR Rockwell applies a One Health approach to enhance and promote food safety. The One Health approach recognizes the interconnection between the health of people, animals, plants, and their shared environment. It is a collaborative effort to achieve optimal health outcomes for animals and people. She references a holistic view, stating: “The health of people is reliant on a healthy environment and a healthy animal population with whom we share the environment with. This includes not only physical health, but also mental well-being, as seen in the physical, emotional, and mental health benefits of the human-animal bond.”

CDR Rockwell has dedicated many years of service to the Veterinary Professional Advisory Committee (VPAC) and served as 2023 VPAC Chair. During her tenure, she led the VPAC in supporting the Surgeon General’s youth mental health and workplace well-being priorities. This included support of the USPHS Commissioned Corps Mascot and participation in the 2023 HHS Puppy Cam live event to promote the importance of mental health, stress management and well-being.

CDR Rockwell has served in numerous deployment roles over her career. In 2021, CDR Rockwell was one of 32 federal veterinarians to serve as a COVID-19 vaccinator at a drive-through mass vaccination site in Maryland. This was the first time veterinarians participated in a federal public health response to vaccinate people under an amendment to the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act Declaration. This amendment allowed additional qualified professionals to serve as vaccinators. This effort led to the rapid and successful delivery of COVID-19 vaccines to a large metropolitan population.

This year, CDR Rockwell will celebrate 19 years as a Public Health Service officer and over 30 years as a veterinarian. When asked what wisdom she would impart to Public Health Service officers, or any person wanting to live a life of public service, she shares the following: “Follow your passion. Be curious. Curiosity breeds excitement and invigorates us. It helps guide us through life to find success in achieving both personal and professional goals. Have role models and mentors … and be one [role model/mentor]. As children, we look toward adults and other role models to help guide us in exploring our interests and passions; for many of us, this [passion] leads to a lifelong career. It is so important to pay it forward and pass the passion and knowledge along to the next generation.”

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