Illustrated portrait of Pamela Schweitzer
Illustration: John Jay Cabuay

Never give up, never retire 

Schweitzer’s government career arc – from delivering direct patient care for the Indian Health Service to helping implement the Affordable Care Act for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services – shaped her fundamental belief that health care should be widely accessible and patient-centered. “I’m big on gauging the community, getting everybody on the same page, and having them work together – the businesses, the different institutions. And on giving people the information and letting them make their own choices,” she says.  

She retired in 2018 after four years as the U.S. assistant surgeon general and chief pharmacist officer in the United States Public Health Service Commissioned Corps. But Schweitzer, the first woman to hold the latter role, is hardly resting. Her days are filled with health consulting projects as she seeks to leverage her hard-won wisdom. “I love it when there’s a problem, because then I can package it, and I know right where to send it to get it fixed.”

People over profits 

Schweitzer spent 19 years as a pharmacist in the Indian Health Service as a USPHS Commissioned Corps Officer. The service provides some government-funded health care for Indigenous Americans. She learned there how different top-down health policy can be from the actual needs of a population. “It’s about caring about the community,” she says. “You hear the medical system say, ‘We’re going to do this,’ but nobody talked to people to make sure that’s what they wanted.”

A modest proposal

“We should all be able to get basic health care,” Schweitzer says. “It shouldn’t be so difficult. It shouldn’t be the haves and the have nots.” And, she adds, “we need to take care of our providers.” 

– Kira Goldenberg for UCSF Magazine

Read the Summer 2024 Issue