Hey Sugarcrystal - I'm also a nursing student (in Ohio - I'd much rather be in San Diego), and new to this site. I am also looking to apply to the US Public Health Service Commissioned Corps to work with the IHS. I have done some research on the pursuit of this career - but I still don't know a ton. I'll tell you what I do know (or at least what I was told) and hope I'm not telling you things you already know, but if I am I'm sorry. What I was told is that when you sign with the Commissioned Corps, the assignments are reasonably flexible. I was told, "if you don't want to go there, then you pick somewhere else" - but they need to have a position for you in that "somewhere else". I was also told that the Commissioned Corps is considered active duty at all times (except if you return to school, then you are considered to be in a training position). Therefore, in times of war - our jobs won't change. They will not up-root us from the far corners of Alaska, Arizona or Minnesota to aid in the latest Al-Qaida, Hamas or militant Iraqi bombing against our troops. Although, I don't know what would happen during war on American soil.
The CC and the Armed forces are all considered Uniformed Services. The Armed Forces are for military service and the PHS-CC are responsible for serving "their country by controlling the spread of contagious diseases such as smallpox and yellow fever, conducting important biomedical research, regulating the food and drug supply, providing health care to underserved groups, supplying medical assistance in the aftermath of disasters, and in numerous other ways"(taken from The History of the Comissioned Corps
). Therefore, as a commissioned officer of the PHS we would receive the same benefits as the military, without going into battle (or in our case, treating those who went to battle) because we are all covered under the "blanket" of the Uniformed Services. All of this information came from a Mr. Steven Hand at the Recruitment and Assignment Branch of the USPHS. The phone number is 301-594-3391. Also, I'm sure you may know this, but if you didn't...check out www.usphs.gov. There is actually a FAQ portion to the sight.
I hope this helps. If you have any more questions - ask them! They are probably questions I hadn't thought to ask. Also, tell me what you know!!!