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White House Medical Unit

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Title: White House Medical Unit  
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Subject: Eleanor Mariano, Physician to the President, White House Communications Agency, Air Force One, University of California, San Diego
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White House Medical Unit

President Barack Obama receives a vaccination from a registered nurse in the White House Medical Unit in 2009.

The White House Medical Unit (WHMU) is a unit of the White House Military Office and is responsible for the medical needs of White House staff and visitors. The unit also provides medical care to the President, the Vice President, their families, and international dignitaries visiting the White House.

About the White House Medical Unit


The WHMU is led by a Director, who also serves as the Physician to the President. The director is usually chosen personally by the President. As of July 2013, the Physician to the President has been Navy Captain Ronny L. Jackson.[1][1]

The medical unit includes active-duty military doctors as well as several physician assistants, registered nurses, and medics. There is one administrator and one medical information technology manager.[2][2] The WHMU Director is the official responsible by law for certifying that the President of the United States is able to discharge the powers and duties of the office, under the provisions of the Twenty-fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution.[4][3][5] The WHMU provides free healthcare to the President, Vice President, and their immediate families, who may also seek free Patient#Outpatients and inpatients medical care at American military hospitals anywhere in the world.[6] Inpatient medical care at American military hospitals is usually covered by the President or Vice President's personal health insurance.[6]

In addition to providing its own medical staff and facilities, the WHMU prepares for every presidential or vice presidential trip by identifying hospitals at which medical care may be provided. The goal is to ensure that the president is never more than 20 minutes away from a hospital with Level 1 trauma center. If this is not possible, the WHMU ensures that a military helicopter is nearby, kept in instant readiness to evacuate the president to an appropriate hospital.[4]


Dr. Ronny L. Jackson, Director of the WHMU, and President Obama look at photographs during a trip in 2011.

The total number of staff on duty at the White House Medical Unit varies over time. In 2001, there were 22 total staff,[4] although by 2010 this had risen to 24 total staff.[3] Although the number of physician assistants is not clear, as of 2012 there were five physicians and three medics assigned to the unit.[2][3] As of 2001, there were six registered nurses assigned to the WHMU, each of whom served a two-year term and was trained and certified in providing emergency care, resuscitation, and trauma care.[7]

WHMU staff are board-certified in the fields of emergency medicine, family medicine, and internal medicine. All staff also have certification in trauma care and the provision of cardiac life support.[4] According to a 2009 news report, doctors accepted for assignment to the WHMU undergo a full year of trauma care training before joining the staff.[6]

At least one physician is on duty in the Executive Residence at all times.[3]

Staff almost always wear civilian street and medical clothing, since military uniforms would draw sniper fire and prevent the WHMU staff from performing their jobs in an emergency.[3]


The White House Medical Unit includes full emergency medical care and trauma units at both the White House and the residence of the Vice President of the United States at the United States Naval Observatory.[4] One former Physician to the President described the White House unit as an urgent care center with a crash cart.[5] A medical examination room is also maintained at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.[4]

Between 1993 and 2001, Rear Admiral Eleanor Mariano reoriented the WHMU more toward the provision of emergency medical services. The unit also began to provide 24-hour care at the White House, and added a medical suite to vice presidential residence to provide the Vice President with the same level of care provided to the President. A physician now staffs the Vice Presidential medical suite at all times.[4] Because jet lag and extremely long hours are common among WHMU staff, a rule limiting staff to 24-hour duty periods was also implemented, and shift rotations created to allow advance medical team staff to take over from traveling staff to limit fatigue.[3]

Between 2002 and 2009, the WHMU implemented a program to provide medical training specific to the international locales which the President or Vice President might travel. This training helps prepare the medical staff for specific or unusual medical situations needed in each place the President or Vice President visits.[4]

The WHMU also oversees the mobile medical suites aboard Air Force One and Air Force Two. Air Force One contains a full surgical suite with operating table, two beds, resuscitation equipment, various medical monitors, and a full pharmacy.[4][5] Air Force Two contains a first aid unit as well as an automated external defibrillator, oxygen tanks, and a limited pharmacy. The WHMU also establishes temporary emergency medical facilities as needed during presidential or vice presidential trips. These usually consist of an eight-member intensive care and surgical team, and a temporary operating room at each stop. WHMU staff may also carry operating room equipment in backpacks to provide emergency medical care as needed on-site when the temporary operating room is too distant.[4] When the President travels overseas, an advance medical team travel ahead of Air Force One to set up its medical facilities days in advance. This way, a fully rested medical team is available to assist the President upon arrival and take over from the team which traveled aboard the presidential aircraft.[6]

A physician and nurse also travel with presidential motorcades. They are stationed far enough away so that if a bomb detonates close to the President, they will be unharmed and thus still able to render care.[6][3]

A WHMU physician and nurse usually accompany the First Lady of the United States when she travels, but a full medical staff and mobile operating suite are not assigned to her.[6]


  1. ^ Dr. Jackson was Director of the White House Medical Unit as of July 2013, but it is unclear just when Dr. Jackson was promoted to this position.
  2. ^ Physicians in private practice are not barred from becoming a member of the White House Medical Unit staff. But since few physicians can afford to abandon their private practice for four years, military physicians have almost always filled the position.[3]
  3. ^ The number of physicains appears not to have changed since 2009.[6]
  1. ^
  2. ^ a b
  3. ^ a b c d e f g
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j
  5. ^ a b c
  6. ^ a b c d e f g
  7. ^

External links

  • White House Medical Unit official website
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