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United States Department of Health and Human Services
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Office of the Surgeon General

About the Office of the Surgeon General

Mission of the Surgeon General
Biography of the Surgeon General
Duties of the Surgeon General
Mission of the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps
Surgeon General’s Honor Corps
History of the Office of the Surgeon General

Mission of the Surgeon General

The Office of the Surgeon General, under the direction of the Surgeon General, oversees the 6,000-member Commissioned Corps of the U.S. Public Health Service and provides support for the Surgeon General in the accomplishment of his other duties. The Office is part of the Office of Public Health and Science, Office of the Secretary, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The Surgeon General is appointed by the President of the United States with the advice and consent of The United States Senate for a 4-year term of office. In carrying out all responsibilities, the Surgeon General reports to the Assistant Secretary for Health, who is the principal advisor to the Secretary on public health and scientific issues.

Office of Public Health and Science

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Biography of the Surgeon General

photo of Richard Carmona, Surgeon GeneralVice Admiral Richard H. Carmona, M.D., F.A.C.S., was sworn in as the 17th Surgeon General of the United States Public Health Service on August 5, 2002.

Born and raised in New York City, Dr. Carmona dropped out of high school and enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1967. While enlisted he received his Army General Equivalency Diploma, joined the Army's Special Forces, ultimately becoming a combat-decorated Vietnam veteran, and began his career in medicine.

After leaving active duty, Dr. Carmona attended Bronx Community College, of the City University of New York, where he earned his associate of arts degree. He later attended and graduated from the University of California, San Francisco, with a bachelor of science degree (1977) and medical degree (1979). At the University of California Medical School, Dr. Carmona was awarded the prestigious gold headed cane as the top graduate. He has also earned a masters of public health from the University of Arizona (1998).

Dr. Carmona has worked in various positions in the medical field including paramedic, registered nurse and physician. Dr. Carmona completed a surgical residency at the University of California, San Francisco, and a National Institutes of Health-sponsored fellowship in trauma, burns and critical care. Dr. Carmona is a Fellow of the American College of Surgeons, and is also certified in correctional health care and in quality assurance.

Prior to being named Surgeon General, Dr. Carmona was the chairman of the State of Arizona Southern Regional Emergency Medical System, a professor of surgery, public health and family and community medicine at the University of Arizona, and the Pima County Sheriff's Department surgeon and deputy sheriff.

Dr. Carmona has also held progressive positions of responsibility as chief medical officer, hospital chief executive officer, public health officer, and finally chief executive officer of the Pima county health care system. He has also served as a medical director of police and fire departments and is a fully-qualified peace officer with expertise in special operations and emergency preparedness, including weapons of mass destruction.

Dr. Carmona has published extensively and received numerous awards, decorations, and local and national recognition for his achievements. A strong supporter of community service, he has served on community and national boards and provided leadership to many diverse organizations.

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Duties of the Surgeon General

  • To administer the U.S. Public Health Service (PHS) Commissioned Corps, which is a uniquely expert, diverse, flexible, and committed career force of public health professionals who can respond to both current and long-term health needs of the Nation;
  • To provide leadership and management oversight for PHS Commissioned Corps involvement in Departmental emergency preparedness and response activities;
  • To protect and advance the health of the Nation through educating the public; advocating for effective disease prevention and health promotion programs and activities; and, provide a highly recognized symbol of national commitment to protecting and improving the public's health;
  • To articulate scientifically based health policy analysis and advice to the President and the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) on the full range of critical public health, medical, and health system issues facing the Nation;
  • To provide leadership in promoting special Departmental health initiatives, e.g., tobacco and HIV prevention efforts, with other governmental and non-governmental entities, both domestically and internationally;
  • To elevate the quality of public health practice in the professional disciplines through the advancement of appropriate standards and research priorities; and
  • To fulfill statutory and customary Departmental representational functions on a wide variety of Federal boards and governing bodies of non-Federal health organizations, including the Board of Regents of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, the National Library of Medicine, the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, the Association of Military Surgeons of the United States, and the American Medical Association.

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Mission of the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps

The mission of the Public Health Service (PHS) Commissioned Corps is to provide highly trained and mobile health professionals who carry out programs to promote the health of the Nation, understand and prevent disease and injury, assure safe and effective drugs and medical devices, deliver health services to Federal beneficiaries, and furnish health expertise in time of war or other national or international emergencies. As one of the seven Uniformed Services the United States, the PHS Commissioned Corps is a specialized career system designed to attract, develop, and retain health professionals who may be assigned to Federal, State or local agencies or international organizations to accomplish its mission.

U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps

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Surgeon General’s Honor Corps

On October 1999, by order of Admiral David Satcher, Assistant Secretary for Health and Surgeon General, the Surgeon General’s Honor Corps was created. The Honor Corps is composed of officers who have demonstrated exceptional commitment and dedication to, and pride in, the Commissioned Corps. An elite but not an elitist organization, members of the Honor Corps are noted for their knowledge of protocol, ceremonies, close order drill, knowledge and practice of uniformed service courtesy, and daily wearing of the uniform with pride and distinction. They serve as outstanding ambassadors and representatives of the Commissioned Corps wherever they are. The Honor Corps serves three major functions: ceremonial presentations, protocol information, and aide-de-camp to the Surgeon General, Deputy Surgeon General, and other designated officials. Known as “The Surgeon General’s Own,” they dedicate their time, and energy to accomplish their assigned mission.

Membership in the Corps will be attained by those officers who demonstrate the professionalism, pride, selflessness, and positive attitude that should typify a commissioned officer.

The requirements for consideration as a probationary member or the Corps are as follows:

  • Must meet the PHS induction height and weight standards
  • Must have supervisors permission and support to participate in Honor Corps activities
  • Must possess, at a minimum, a complete Service Dress Blue uniform (Dress white uniform may be acquired during the probationary period)
  • Must be willing and able to attend regularly scheduled practices in drill and ceremony
  • Must be willing and available for formal presentations and ceremonies
  • Must be willing to wear the PHS uniform on a daily basis with pride and distinction
  • Must be willing to place the needs of the Corps above personal convenience

All interested officers should contact: CAPT Richard C. Vause Jr., Commanding Officer at 215-861-4375 or rvause@hrsa.gov or LCDR Robin Scheper, Deputy Commander and Training Officer at 301-443-1707 or rscheper@hrsa.gov. To request participation of the Honor Corps in an event, please follow these guidelines.

Join us as we elevate the esprit-de-corps of the Commissioned Corps of the United States Public Health Service.

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History of the Office of the Surgeon General

In 1798, Congress established the U.S. Marine Hospital Service—predecessor to today’s U.S. Public Health Service—to provide health care to sick and injured merchant seamen. In 1870, the Marine Hospital Service was reorganized as a national hospital system with centralized administration under a medical officer, the Supervising Surgeon, who was later give the title of Surgeon General.

More History

Previous Surgeons General

U.S. Public Health Service Bicentennial

History of Medicine: Online Exhibits (National Library of Medicine)

Office of the Public Health Service Historian

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Surgeon General News

  • October 14, 2004
    By 2020, One In Two Americans Over Age 50 Will Be At Risk For Fractures From Osteoporosis Or Low Bone Mass
    full story

  • May 27, 2004
    New Surgeon General's Report Expands List of Diseases Caused by Smoking
    full story

  • April 8, 2004
    New Evidence Report Illustrates Links Between Health Literacy and Health Care Use and Outcomes
    full story

  • March 16, 2004
    HHS Names Members to Task Force on Drug Importation
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