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Students Learn About ‘Invisible Corps’ — the Front Lines of Public Health

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Biological science major Nic Furtado had never heard about the career opportunities within the United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps — until officers came to Cal State Fullerton to share stories of their call to duty. 

Furtado and other students met uniformed officers and learned about America’s health responders at a Feb. 8 event hosted by the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics and Health Professions Advising Office.

Commission Corps officers — one of the nation’s uniformed services — serve as pharmacists, physicians, nurses, dentists, scientists, engineers and other professions. They work on the front lines of public health at government agencies such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Indian Health Service and Federal Bureau of Prisons.

“I wanted to learn more about the Commissioned Corps because I’m interested in public health,” said Furtado, an undergraduate researcher in infectious diseases and Associated Students Inc. college representative. “There are many different disciplines and pathways that you can take within the field of public health, so exploring career options is exciting.”

Student Nic Furtado meets Rear Admiral Pamela Schweitzer to learn about public health careers
Nic Furtado, a biological science major, meets alumna and retired Rear Admiral Pamela M. Schweitzer and U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps officers to learn about public health careers.

Students also watched “Invisible Corps: In Officio Salutis (In Service of Health).” The PBS documentary explains the history and importance of the Public Health Service and how “invisible” Corps officers help to ensure safe drinking water, eliminate malaria and stop the spread of COVID-19.

“We’re invisible because a lot of what we do is infrastructure and is not necessarily seen by the public. We don’t spend time promoting ourselves. For every public incident you hear about, there is a public health safety officer providing expertise and leadership,” said alumna and Rear Admiral Pamela M. Schweitzer, who retired in 2018 after 29 years of federal service, including 24 years as a Public Health Service Commissioned Corps officer.

Schweitzer ’82 (B.A. biological science), a Cal State Fullerton Philanthropic Foundation Board of Governors member, moderated a discussion with local corps officers who shared their career paths into public service. 

A 2024 Vision & Visionaries’ Distinguished Alumni Award recipient and university donor, Schweitzer shared that Corps officers are prepared to deploy before, during and after any public health crisis. Their mission is to protect, promote and advance the health and safety of the nation.

Claire Tipton
Lt. Claire Tipton, consumer safety officer (Photo courtesy of Pamela M. Schweitzer)

“Corps officers are our silent warriors,” said Schweitzer, who earned a doctor of pharmacy and served as the first female chief professional officer of pharmacy and assistant surgeon general.

Lt. Claire Tipton, a consumer safety officer, shared that she serves within the Food and Drug Administration. She works at the Port of Los Angeles alongside U.S. Customs and Border Protection to inspect shipments of foods, drugs and other FDA-regulated products to ensure items are safe before entering the country. 

“We’re the best kept secret,” Tipton said. “But we don’t want it to be a secret. We want to get the word out about what we do and inspire students to join the Commissioned Corps,” said Tipton, who served in the U.S. territory of Guam and worked to establish an interagency task force to study and combat opioid abuse on the island. 

Learning about the public health program was eye-opening for biology graduate student Alex Moran.

“It’s something I can see myself doing,” said Moran ’22 (B.S. biological science), who plans to become a physician. “Commissioned Corps officers are unsung heroes, and their work is important.”

For more information about the Commissioned Corps, visit the website. To learn about student opportunities in the Commissioned Corps, visit here. Watch the “Invisible Corps” documentary on PBS.

Debra Cano Ramos