Levine now serves as the highest ranking official in the USPHS Commissioned Corps and is the first woman to achieve the rank of four-star admiral in the corps.
WASHINGTON — Dr. Rachel Levine, the former Pennsylvania health secretary, has become the first openly transgender health official to be sworn in as a four-star admiral.
As the US assistant secretary for health, Levine is the nation’s highest-ranking openly transgender official. She was sworn in as an admiral of the US Public Health Service Commissioned Corps on Tuesday.
Levine now serves as the highest ranking official in the USPHS Commissioned Corps and is the first woman to achieve the rank of four-star admiral in the corps. She will lead more than 6,000 public health service officers who respond to health crises on behalf of the federal government.
“Admiral Levine’s historic appointment as the first openly transgender four-star officer is a giant step forward toward equality as a nation,” US Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a written statement. “Admiral Levine is a cherished and critical partner in our work to build a healthier America.”
The US Public Health Service Commissioned Corps
The US Public Health Service Commissioned Corps is one of the nation’s eight uniformed services, although it is distinct from the six military services — including the Navy, Army, and Air Force — because it explicitly focuses on medical issues.
The corps dates back to the late 1700s, when President John Adams signed the Act for the Relief of Sick and Disabled Seamen, which created marine hospitals in America’s major port cities. The staff at the hospitals worked to protect the health of sailors and immigrants, and prevent the spread of epidemics like smallpox and yellow fever.
The Marine Hospital Service adopted a military model and centralized leadership under the supervising surgeon, a role now known as the surgeon general.
Congress officially established the US Public Health Service Commissioned Corps in 1889, and organized officers with military ranks and pay.
The corps’ role expanded after that to include research, regulation, and disaster relief. Corps officers serve in agencies across the federal government as physicians, nurses, dentists, veterinarians, scientists, engineers, and other professions.
Levine, 63, is the sixth person in the history of the US Public Health Service Commissioned Corps to attain the rank of four-star admiral.
Levine’s Leadership and Experience
Levine was confirmed as the US assistant secretary of health earlier this year.
When President Joe Biden nominated Levine for the post, he praised her experience and said she “will bring the steady leadership and essential expertise we need to get people through this pandemic — no matter their zip code, race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.”
Levine served as the Pennsylvania Secretary of Health from 2017 to 2021. She was confirmed to the post after the majority-GOP Pennsylvania Senate voted 49-1 to approve Levine’s appointment, making her one of the few transgender people serving in elected or appointed positions at the state and federal levels.
Two years earlier, the majority-GOP Pennsylvania Senate unanimously confirmed her appointment as the state Physician General.
Before Levine became Pennsylvania’s physician general, she served as the Vice Chairperson for Clinical Affairs at the Department of Pediatrics at Penn State Hershey Medical Center. While she was there, she started the adolescent medicine division and eating disorders clinic.
A graduate of Harvard and of Tulane Medical School, Levine finished her medical training at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City.
She has written in the past on the opioid crisis, medical marijuana, adolescent medicine, eating disorders, and LGBTQ medicine.