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The United States Public Health Service (PHS) was founded first by President John Adams in 1798 as a loose network of hospitals to support the health of American seamen. It is the uniformed service of the United States Department of Health and Human Services and one of the seven Uniformed Services.
The origins of the Public Health Service may be traced to the passage of an act in 1798 that provided for the care and relief of sick and injured merchant seamen. The earliest marine hospitals created to care for the seamen were located along the East Coast, with Boston being the site of the first such facility; later they were also established along inland waterways, the Great Lakes, and the Gulf of Mexico and Pacific Coasts.
A reorganization in 1870 converted the loose network of locally controlled hospitals into a centrally controlled Marine Hospital Service, with its headquarters in Washington, D.C. The position of Supervising Surgeon (later Surgeon General) was created to administer the Service, and John Maynard Woodworth was appointed as the first incumbent in 1871. He moved quickly to reform the system and adopted a military model for his medical staff, instituting examinations for applicants and putting his physicians in uniforms. Woodworth created a cadre of mobile, career service physicians who could be assigned as needed to the various marine hospitals. The uniformed services component of the Marine Hospital Service was formalized as the Public Health Service Commissioned Corps by legislation enacted in 1889. At first open only to physicians, over the course of the twentieth century, the Corps expanded to include dentists, sanitary engineers, pharmacists, nurses, sanitarians, scientists, and other health professionals.
Scope of Responsibility
The scope of activities of the Marine Hospital Service also began to expand well beyond the care of merchant seamen in the closing decades of the nineteenth century, beginning with the control of infectious disease. Responsibility for quarantine was originally a function of the states rather than the Federal Government, but the National Quarantine Act of 1878 conferred quarantine authority on the Marine Hospital Service. Over the course of the next half a century, the Marine Hospital Service increasingly took over quarantine functions from state authorities.
As immigration increased dramatically in the late nineteenth century, the Federal Government also took over the processing of immigrants from the states, beginning in 1891. The Marine Hospital Service was assigned the responsibility for the medical inspection of arriving immigrants at sites such as Ellis Island in New York. Commissioned officers played a major role in fulfilling the Service's commitment to prevent disease from entering the country.
Because of the broadening responsibilities of the Service, its name was changed in 1902 to the Public Health and Marine Hospital Service, and again in 1912 to just the Public Health Service. The Service continued to expand its public health activities as the nation entered the twentieth century, with the Commissioned Corps leading the way. As the century progressed, PHS commissioned officers served their country by controlling the spread of contagious diseases such as smallpox and yellow fever, conducting important biomedical research, regulating the food and drug supply, providing health care to underserved groups, supplying medical assistance in the aftermath of disasters, and in numerous other ways.
Uniforms of the United States Public Health Service
Members of the Public Health Service Commissioned Corps wear uniforms of the United States Navy with special corps insignia and use rank insignia identical to that of Naval officers. The actual titles are somewhat different and unlike the Navy, the specialty of the officer is often identified in their title. An O-5 nurse would be a "Senior Nurse Officer", while a physician or dentist of the same rank would be a "Senior Surgeon." For more details on the titles of USPHS commissioned officers, see page 33 of the Officers Handbook. 
The headquarters of the Public Health Service is at 5600 Parkview Drive, Bethesda, Maryland.
Current activities of the USPHS
The United States Public Health Service deploy for a variety of reasons. The most notable of activities in recent time is Hurricane Katrina.
- U.S. Public Health Service
- PHS history and WWII women's uniforms in color — WWII US women's service organizations (WAC, WAVES, ANC, NNC, USMCWR, PHS, SPARS, ARC and WASP)
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