Q & A with RADM Penelope Slade-Sawyer

In conjunction with ‘National Public Health Awareness Week’, RADM Slade-Sawyer, U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps Officer, and Senior Adviser to the Assistant Secretary for Health, addressed a crowd at the University of Maryland (UMD). Her speech, sponsored by UMD’s School of Public Health, was entitled, “Advancing the Health of the Nation: Healthy People 2020 and The National Prevention Strategy.”

Rear Admiral Penelope Slade-Sawyer

RADM Slade-Sawyer, explaining the Commissioned Corps’ importance to National public health, stated, “We go where the private sector won’t go.”

After her speech, we sat down with RADM Slade-Sawyer and discussed the importance of the U.S. Public Health Service and the advice she would give to aspiring Corps officers. Although the Corps is sometimes known as “the few, the proud, the invisible,” its significance to public health cannot be mistaken.

What qualities, values, or characteristics should Corps officers exude?

Commissioned Corps officers should be willing to lead by example, have a deep understanding of the importance of public health to the overall success of America, be eager to learn and keep learning, and possess integrity to make decisions based on the best science. Corps officers should be prepared for a life devoted to service.

What advice can you give to aspiring Commissioned Corps officers?

The best piece of advice I can give currently to aspiring Commissioned Corps officers is to be patient. Sometimes there is a wait during the process to become a Commissioned Corps officer - but it is worth the wait.

What has been the most interesting project you have worked on as a Commissioned Corps officer?

I have worked on many exceedingly interesting projects, and it is difficult to choose only one. I can, however, point to a project that was truly exceptional: The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans 2008. The process of moving this project from conception to reality was exciting, challenging, and a lot of good hard work. A team of dedicated individuals from across the Department saw the project through from beginning to end and I loved being part of that. (Find the guidelines here: http://www.health.gov/paguidelines/).

What aspect of working with the U.S. Public Health Service has given you the most satisfaction?

The aspect that has given me the most satisfaction has been working with a cadre of officers whose professional desire is to make a positive impact on American public health. The breadth and depth of Commissioned Corps influence on health comes in part from looking at “health” in a variety of ways. The doctor, nurse, therapist in a clinic will look at health from a clinical perspective; the environmental health officer or engineer or scientist or veterinarian or dentist, etc., will see health through somewhat different lenses. When you put these various viewpoints together you get a more nearly complete picture of what it takes to create an environment in which people will have a better chance to reach their full potential for good health – and that’s a satisfying way to address health challenges– as a team.

What opportunities in the Commissioned Corps are unparalleled elsewhere?

The Commissioned Corps provides opportunities to serve the underserved. Officers have the privilege and responsibility to promote and provide clinical care to individuals who may not receive it otherwise. The Corps career is one for those who love adventure, you may have the opportunity to travel and serve different cultures and different populations. The career is definitely for those with an adventurous spirit!

Page Last Modified on 3/24/2014