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Health Services Officer Award Guide

Prepared by the Awards Subcommittee of the HS PAC


Why an Award Guide?

The Health Services Officer (HSO) Award Guide was developed by the Health Services Professional Advisory Committee (HS PAC) to help officers become better informed about the Commissioned Corps awards process and to assist them in gaining appropriate and timely recognition for noteworthy achievements. This Guide describes some common problems that occur, offers possible solutions, and provides recommendations for the successful completion of an award nomination.

Some officers are not fully informed about the Commissioned Corps awards program, or have been discouraged by what they perceive as inequities in the awards system (e.g., some individuals get and some organizations give more awards than others; officers in certain locations are more likely to get awards than others; etc.). The Award Guide, along with the information contained in Section CC27 of the Commissioned Corps Personnel Manual, is designed to help officers become better informed and prevent misconceptions about the awards process.

It is important to understand that the Commissioned Corps Awards Program is not competitive. There are no targets or quotas on the types or the number of awards to be given out each year to individuals, categories, or agencies. It is also important for officers to be realistic in their expectations. We are all paid professionals, and are expected to do our work as well as possible. Not everything we do justifies an award.

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Preparing the Award Nomination

In most situations, a supervisor will submit an award nomination to acknowledge an officer's superior accomplishments and achievements. Unfortunately, sometimes this does not happen. Below are some reasons a supervisor might not submit an award nomination and some actions you might take to remedy the situation.

  1. Your supervisor may be too busy and cannot find the time to prepare the award nomination. As an alternative, you may be able to recommend another individual sufficiently familiar with your work and accomplishments who can write the award nomination instead of your supervisor. As a last resort, and only if your supervisor concurs, you can propose to write a draft of the award nomination yourself and submit it to your supervisor for his/her review and concurrence.
  2. Your supervisor may be unaware of the significance and impact of your work or doesn't feel that your accomplishments deserve recognition. To remedy this, try some new approaches to communicate to him/her the importance of what you have done. This might include writing a report that shows the outcome and impact of your work, or providing your supervisor with comments from other colleagues or organizations that have benefitted from the work you did.
  3. Many supervisors, especially Civil Service supervisors, do not understand the Commissioned Corps Awards Program or appreciate the importance of awards to an officer's career and to the promotion process. You may need to take the initiative to educate him/her about the awards process as well as the role of awards in promotions. You may also need to understand specific Commissioned Corps award procedures for your agency and inform your supervisor accordingly.
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Reasons Awards are not Endorsed

Sometimes an officer is nominated for an honor award but the award nomination is not endorsed. Reasons for this may include:

  1. Officer nominated for incorrect award:
    The level of the proposed award must be consistent with the accomplishment (see page 5). In addition, if an officer is nominated for an individual award when the work that is being cited was done by a group, the award will probably be returned with the recommendation that a unit award be considered.
  2. Untimely award submission:
    Commissioned Corps awards must be submitted within 13 months of completion of the achievement or accomplishment cited.
  3. More than one individual award within the award year:
    Officers may not receive more than one individual honor award (see listing of individual honor awards pages 6 and 7) from their agency during an award year (July 1 - June 30).
  4. Award nomination forms not filled out correctly:
    Awards nomination forms that are not filled out correctly, are not on the correct forms, or lack the necessary signatures will be returned.
  5. Award narrative poorly written:
    No matter how justified an award may be, if the narrative does not convey the significance and impact of the work it is unlikely to be approved. Be familiar with the criteria for the particular award, and make sure that the narrative addresses the criteria in a clear and understandable way, but does not exceed two pages in length.
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Narrative Pitfalls

The award narrative should be easy to read, meet the criteria for the particular award, and clearly show why the award is justified. Some common mistakes with the narrative include:

  1. Poorly written:
    • Contains mostly jargon, glowing adjectives, or global phrases;
    • Uses incorrect grammar or punctuation;
    • Written in technical language not understandable by a multi-disciplinary board;
    • Unfocused, unclear writing;
    • Includes extraneous and distracting information.
  2. Doesn't meet award criteria:
    • Officer has already been recognized for these accomplishments either through a previous award or as part of a unit award;
    • Accomplishments are not yet completed;
    • Time period covered on nomination form does not agree with time period covered by the narrative;
  3. Narrative does not justify the award:
    • Accomplishments and statement of impact are not clear or specific;
    • Narrative does not demonstrate that accomplishments are above and beyond those normally required of the officer;
    • Achievement and impact do not correlate with the level of proposed award.
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Writing the Narrative

Narrative - The Commission Corps Awards requires the awards be formatted addressing four main issues:

  • Introduction - A paragraph describing the accomplishments being recognized, the citation that will be used on the award certificate, and the time period of the accomplishment.
  • Background - A paragraph describing the conditions that existed prior to the individual or group accomplishments. It must include information about the nominee, his/her regular duties, and a description of the problem that existed prior to the accomplishment by the officer.
  • Intervention - A paragraph describing the accomplishment that resulted in the individual meriting the award. It must include specific information on what the officer or group did to correct the situation addressed in the Background section, how the officer meets the award criteria, and how the officer’s achievement was above and beyond the expected performance of duty.
  • Impact/Outcome - A paragraph with clear and definite description on the impact the accomplishment had on Public Health Issues. If possible, support the description with statistics, examples or any tangible data.
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Additional Tips

  1. If an award is for a discrete time period, make sure that the narrative reflects only activities from that time period. (However, brief, concise and pertinent background information may be included to "set the stage" for the award nomination.)
  2. Include dates of specific activities.
  3. To avoid any potential appearance of a conflict of interest, the nominator should not be a person who is supervised by the officer being nominated. Also, the nominator cannot be included in a group award.
  4. Citations must be limited to 25 words or less and be consistent with the narrative.
  5. If the proposed award is to recognize specific accomplishments, the narrative should concentrate on them and not include superfluous information.
  6. If the award is for career accomplishments, the narrative should summarize and highlight the total career rather than any one particular achievement.
  7. Avoid the "CV format," which is a chronicle of an officer's assignments, but does not describe the reasons that criteria for a particular award have been met.
  8. The award narrative is a maximum of 2 pages in no less than 12 point print with no more than 12 characters per inch and one inch margins. Many of the best narratives are less than 2 pages.
  9. Avoid mentioning activities in the narrative that do not pertain to how the criteria are being met. This tends to distract from the impact.
  10. Fill out nomination form thoroughly and correctly.
  11. Limit the use of technical words, jargon, and acronyms. The committee that reviews award nominations may not be familiar with these terms.
  12. If the award nomination period and accomplishments overlap other awards, explain this in the narrative.
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Honor Award Criteria

  1. Group Awards:
    Unit Commendation - Recognizes outstanding accomplishments by a designated organizational unit within the PHS at a level of performance well above that normally expected, but of a somewhat lesser level than is required for the Outstanding Unit Citation.
    Outstanding Unit Commendation - Recognizes superior accomplishments often of national or international significance by commissioned officers in PHS components at an exceptional level of performance. Final approval is by the Commissioned Corps Awards Board (CCAB)
  2. Individual Awards:
    PHS Citation - Recognizes noteworthy contribution(s) toward the attainment of Program objectives, sustained above-average performance of duty, and high quality performance of duty over a relatively short period of time.
    Achievement Medal - Recognizes a noteworthy contribution(s) toward the attainment of Program objectives, or sustained above-average performance of duty over a relatively brief period such as a short tour of duty (120 days or less).
    Commendation Medal - Recognizes sustained high quality work performance in scientific, administrative, or other professional fields, application of unique skill or creative imagination to the approach or solution of problems, or noteworthy technical and professional contributions that are significant to a limited area at a level of proficiency and dedication distinctly greater than that expected of the average commissioned officer.
    Outstanding Service Medal - Recognizes outstanding continuous leadership in carrying out the mission of the PHS, a single accomplishment which has had a major effect on the health of the Nation, or a heroic act resulting in the preservation of health or property. Final approval is by the CCAB.
    Meritorious Service Medal - Recognizes a single, particularly important achievement, a career notable for accomplishments in a technical or professional field, or leadership of an unusually high quality and initiative. Final approval is by the CCAB.
    Distinguished Service Medal - Recognizes outstanding contributions to the mission of the PHS, an initiative which has major impact on the health of the Nation, management of a major health program, or involvement in a heroic act resulting in an exceptional saving of life, health, or property. Final approval is by the CCAB.
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The purpose of the Commissioned Corps Awards Program is to recognize the noteworthy accomplishments and achievements of Commissioned Officers. If you are not getting the recognition you think you deserve, identify the problem and consider possible ways to remedy the situation. In some instances, the difficulties that occur between an officer and a supervisor regarding awards are indicative of a larger problem. You should assess the situation and, if warranted, make a change. Remember, it is your responsibility to look out for your career!

Appendix I:
Checklist prepared by the Division of Commissioned Personnel for award nominations.

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Last updated on April 2007