Career Paths and Benefits The IHS Advantage
- USPHS Commissioned Corps
- Federal Civil Service
- Direct Tribal Hire
- PHARMACIST JOBS - IHS Job Vacancies
For Information About Commissioned Corp Opportunities Contact:
Damion Killsback, Pharm.D.
IHS Pharmacist Recruiter
Indian Health Service
12300 Twinbrook Parkway
Rockville, MD 20852
Phone: (301) 443-2472
Fax: (301) 443-6048
USPHS Commissioned Corps
There are three personnel systems used by the IHS and tribal facilities. Two systems are used by the federal government: the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps and Federal civil service. The third system is direct tribal hire in which pharmacists are employees of a particular tribal organization. Of the approximately 500 pharmacists providing pharmaceutical care for Alaska Natives and American Indians, approximately 80 percent are commissioned corps officers, 5 to 15 percent are civil service with the remainder are hired directly by the individual tribes.
Most IHS pharmacists are employed as Commissioned Officers of the United States Public Health Service (USPHS). The Commissioned Corps of the USPHS is one of the seven uniformed services of the United States Government. Although some of the uniformed services are also armed forces, the Commissioned Corps of the USPHS is not a military service. Thus, many of the features of employment, e.g., pay and benefits are equivalent among all the uniformed services. However, there are some distinct differences.
First, the Commissioned Corps of the USPHS is comprised entirely of officers who have been commissioned on the basis of their health-related training. There are no enlisted members of the Commissioned Corps; virtually all Commissioned Officers qualify for commissioning by achieving certain degree requirements from accredited schools. Among the 12 categories of professions in the Corps are physicians, nurses, pharmacists, scientists, dentists and other health care professionals. The Commissioned Corps is approximately 6,200 members strong. Most Commissioned Corps pharmacists are assigned to either the Indian Health Service, which has 400 Commissioned Corps pharmacists, the Food and Drug Administration, with over Commissioned Corps 200 pharmacists, or the Federal Bureau of Prisons, with nearly 130 Commissioned Corps pharmacists.
Applicants to the Corps may select the agency to which they wish to be assigned, as well as the specific location, if there is a preference. If the agency is unable to offer the candidate an assignment of choice or if the individual chooses to seek employment elsewhere, then no match is made. Once a candidate is called to duty, however, he or she can remain at that assignment until choosing to separate or transfer to another assignment. Upon serving at least two years at any particular site, one is eligible to transfer, but is not required to do so.
Commissioned Corps benefits are equivalent to those of the other uniformed services, including the military services. Unlike the military, however, the Commissioned Corps allows officers to separate from the service at any time of their choosing, or to remain at their current duty station until they choose to relocate or separate. In other words, the officers decide for themselves when and where they will move.
Officers are encouraged to remain in the service for at least two years. Upon so doing, they earn two additional benefits: Unused annual leave assumes a cash value upon their separation, and the officer's relocation home or equivalent destination is covered. Officers leaving prior to having served at least two years relinquish these two additional benefits.
Another benefit of the Commissioned Corps is the officer's discretion in selecting his or her assignment. A commissioned corps applicant is not called to duty until and unless a favorable job match is achieved. Geographic preference is therefore given primary consideration when attempting to find suitable assignments for the applicant. Once a position is identified that appeals to the applicant, he or she may then accept that specific assignment and establish the call-to-duty date. If no opportunities appeal to the applicant, then no assignment is made. That is, there is no obligation whatsoever in applying to, and qualifying for, the Commissioned Corps. The application is good for a full year; if no match is made or the applicant finds employment elsewhere, the paperwork is simply withdrawn.
The following list summarizes key benefits of uniformed service assignments:
- Exciting blend of clinical and community services and mobility among agencies
- Job stability
- Career advancement opportunities
- Only one license is required for assignments in any state
- Opportunities to transfer throughout much of the country
- Non-taxable earnings in addition to basic pay
- Free, comprehensive health care
- Thirty days of paid vacation every year
- Ten paid Federal holidays every year
- Sick leave as needed
- Administrative leave for professional meetings, courses and seminars
- Moving expenses covered for call-to-duty and change-of-station relocation
- Opportunity to compete for long-term training
- Non-contributory insurance program for dependents
- Survivor benefits
- Retirement (non-contributory) after 20 years of service
- Military Post Exchange and commissary privileges
- Space-available transport on military aircraft, on-base lodging and recreational facilities
- Miscellaneous service-related discounts
The pay and benefits of the PHS Commissioned Corps are equivalent to those of the other uniformed services, e.g., the U.S. Army or the U.S. Navy. All newly graduated pharmacists with a Doctor of Pharmacy degree are commissioned at the O-3 pay grade, which is the same rank as an Army Captain or a Navy Lieutenant. The USPHS uses the same designations as the Navy; thus, newly commissioned Pharmacist Officers enter at the Lieutenant rank. The basic pay is established according to that pay grade. With an increase in rank (eligibility for promotion occurring just 4 years after graduation), the basic pay increases substantially. Pay also increases over time, starting with a pay raise on one's second anniversary, another on the third anniversary, and again on the fourth anniversary. Additional pay raises generally occur every other year thereafter. Cost-of-living adjustments further increase the basic pay.
Basic Pay and Allowances
Commissioned Corps income includes at least three components, the monthly Basic Pay, Basic Allowance for Subsistence, and Basic Allowance for Housing (described below). Pharmacists also receive Variable Special Pay (VSP) ($3,000/year for newly commissioned pharmacists). Optional supplements for pharmacists include a one-time $30,000 Accession Bonus for a four-year commitment. After just three years of service, VSP increases to $7,000/year, plus the officer has received two pay raises and three cost-of-living adjustments. While overall pay may look lower than what a pharmacist might receive in salary in the private sector, your actual take home pay is similar to and generally more than the private sector after the first few years due to much of your income being non-taxable. For a detailed pay comparison go to the PHS Pharmacy Web Site and read about "Pharmacy's Best Kept Secret" [PDF].
The Basic Pay portion of an officer's pay is considered to be the officer's actual salary and is subject to Federal income tax, Social Security tax (FICA), and in most cases, state income tax. The rate of basic pay is based on the officer's temporary grade/rank and the Base Pay Entry Date (BPED). The BPED is usually the officer's call-to-active-duty date, although it may be adjusted for prior service in other Uniformed Services. The second important date is the Training and Experience (T & E) date which reflects the officer's creditable training and experience related to the officer's professional category/specialty and determines rank and promotion eligibility. The initial rate of Basic Pay is determined by the officer's BPED and rank. Subsequent increases in base pay result from length of service and promotion to the next higher rank. Review the basic pay rates .
Basic Allowance For Subsitence
All officers receive $223.04 per month, non-taxable.
Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH)
As of 1998, Basic Allowance for Quarters has been combined with Variable Housing Allowance, and is now called "Basic Allowance for Housing." BAH is based upon the average cost of living for civilians at the location to which the officer is assigned. This figure is adjusted in accordance with the officer's rank and dependency status. BAH is calculated to cover at least 80% of the typical officer's housing expenses for that particular location. It is included with the officer's monthly pay and is non-taxable.
the BAH for a specific location
Enter the duty station zip code, and the officer's rank, e.g., "O-3" for an entry-level pharmacist. The web site will report the BAH for that particular assignment and the officer, at both the with-dependents and without-dependents rates.
To qualify for the Commissioned Corps of the U.S. Public Health Service, the following requirements must be met:
- United States Citizenship
- Graduation from, or current enrollment in, an ACPE accredited U.S. pharmacy school
- Less than 44 years of age, unless the age limit is offset by prior active duty military service (e.g., 3 years of active duty service in the U.S. Navy extends the age limit to less than 47 years)
- No more than 8 years of prior active duty military service
- Fitness for duty, as determined by a USPHS physical examination
- Professional ability, as determined by college transcripts and references
- Other qualifications will be determined through a security clearance, questionnaire for non-sensitive duty positions, etc.
The qualifying process may take 2-3 months; however, you are encouraged to discuss possible assignments with the IHS Pharmacist Recruiter while your paperwork is being reviewed. Because there is no obligation to accept an assignment, you should complete the application and qualify for the Commissioned Corps. This will allow you to be considered for any job opportunities that may appeal to you. Should such an assignment be offered, you will then be able to accept the position as a Commissioned Officer. On the other hand, you may withdraw your application at any time, should you choose a different career path. Qualifying for the Commissioned Corps simply broadens your employment options.
If you feel that you meet the commissioning requirements of the U.S. Public Health Service and would like an application packet, please go to the Division of Commissioned Personnel web site or call 1-800-279-1605. To speak to a recruiter, see the list of Area Pharmacist Recruiters under the Current Vacancies section.