Professional & Graduate Studies

How Many People Does It Take To Care for the President?

June 15, 2016

It takes a big staff to support the President of the United States.  There are drivers, pilots, chefs, many Secret Service agents, and more. Plus their office is the White House, and that requires more upkeep than the average house, even if you only count the part the President uses. But that’s only a fraction of what it takes to keep the President going.

Being the leader of the free world is a pretty demanding gig. For starters, presidents often don’t get the recommended 8 of hours of sleep per night that doctors recommend. Abe Lincoln barely slept at all, while President Obama gets about 5 hours or so, though ex-President George W. Bush got nearly double that. That means someone has to wake up the President, because he’s the President and an alarm clock just won’t do.

Among the most important people on the President’s staff? His healthcare team. Officially known as the White House Medical Unit, they are a group of doctors, nurses, medics and more whose sole job is to make sure the Commander-in-Chief is in tip-top physical condition.


How Many People Does It Take To Care for the President? infographic


There are 20 to 30 people on the President’s healthcare team, and that’s when they’re on home turf. Traveling around the world is a big part of the job, and it requires that healthcare be available anywhere. Air Force One has enough staff and equipment to perform surgery on board. And when the plane lands, there is usually another medical team waiting at nearby hospitals, just in case.

The more volatile the region, the more preparation, scrutiny, and Secret Service agents go into securing a suitable location. For his trip to Africa in 2013, Obama had hundreds on his advance team scout spots ahead of his arrival. Just to be safe, they also parked a Naval aircraft carrier with a full medical team off the coast.

It’s worth noting that the healthcare team assigned to the President also cares for the Vice President as well as their families, staffers, and guests. (Though the President likely gets priority when it comes to appointment times.) And the First Lady? She doesn’t get a medical team wherever she goes, but if she has a health emergency, she likely won’t have to take a number at the nearest emergency room, either.

These safeguards are put in place for a reason; there have been many health scares over the years. John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan were both the victims of assassination attempts requiring the most immediate type of care possible.  (It was not enough in JFK’s case, sadly.) President Dwight “Ike” Eisenhower suffered both a heart attack and a stroke while in office. Perhaps less serious is the time George W. Bush choked on a pretzel and passed out.

Once their term is up and they return to life as “normal” citizens, the ex-presidents and their families are still afforded treatment in military hospitals, and two-term presidents get to enroll in a group health plan established for federal employees. Which is nice, but a bit of a downgrade from 24/7 care provided by dozens of people.

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