Column – Honoring our U.S. Navy Hospital Corpsmen

Published 2:26 pm Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

Monday, June 17, marked the 126th anniversary of the Hospital Corps of the United States Navy. 

Established in 1898, the Hospital Corps is a vital component of the U.S. Navy in general and U.S. Navy Medicine in particular. It exists to serve in peace and wartime. Its members, known as Navy Hospital Corpsman, are charged with caring for all eligible healthcare beneficiaries’ health and medical needs worldwide.

As the largest occupational rating (Navy Enlisted Classification-HM) in the United States Navy, the Hospital Corps has about 30,000 members on active duty and reserve, and they’re everywhere. 

Email newsletter signup

They’re at sea and undersea, in Navy ships and submarines, or ashore, in hospitals, medical centers, clinics, Marine units, battlefields, and special operations. They are considered the most decorated in the U.S. Navy and, in general, the United States Armed Forces. To their credit, to date, are 23 recipients of the Medal of Honor, 179 Navy Cross, 31 Distinguished Service Cross (United States Army), 959 Silver Star Medals, and 1,600 Bronze Star Medal with Combat “V” for heroism. 

They’re referred to as “Doc,” a term of endearment, by the Marines who love them dearly and consider them their “unsung heroes,” their “lifesavers.” The Marines are very protective of them who often make the difference between life and death, especially on the battlefield. They may be frequently the only medical care-giver available in many fleet or Marine units, especially on extended deployment. In a combat environment, they render emergency medical treatment or initial treatment.

They perform various functions as clinical or specialty technicians/technologists, with specialized training as medical laboratory technologists, optometry technicians, aerospace medicine specialists, pharmacy technicians, operating room technicians, and radiology technologists. 

They receive advanced medical training and qualifications, as well as qualifications and certification in sanitation and public health. Others are assigned independent duty as IDCs (Independent Duty Corpsman) in surface ships and submarines, with diving teams and Fleet Marine Force (FMF) Recon teams, as well as remote shore installations, trained and skilled in combat and other specialties.

Besides doing bedside hospital or clinic health and medical care to patients, they perform duties as assistants to healthcare professionals (doctors and nurses); advisers regarding health and injury prevention, and treatment illnesses for decompression sickness and other conditions requiring hyperbaric treatment.

As I recall, I participated in the flag ceremony and official tribute to the Navy Hospital Corps at its 100th anniversary celebration — A Century of Tradition, Valor and Sacrifice — at The First and Finest, Naval Medical Center in Portsmouth (NMCP) in June 1998.  

To grace that special occasion, 1954 Medal of Honor recipient, Master Chief Hospital Corpsman (HMCM) (SS) retired, William R. Charette was there, as guest speaker, being the namesake of the Charette Health Care Center, Building 2, at NMCP. The traditional cake-cutting ceremony featured the oldest corpsman (Charette) and youngest NMCP staff member. By the way, Charette Health Care Center, Building 2, recently celebrated its 25 years in April this year.) 

Based on my observation and experience, I’d like to share “What a Hospital Corpsman is?”

He’s more than an aide, an assistant, an adviser, a specialist, a technician or a technologist.

He’s more than a doctor’s helper or a nurse’s aide…He does quality patient care with the utmost service that’s rare—Only in the military, he’s full of responsibilities; a call to duty…and other collateral duties.

On the frontline, He is there; on the battlefield, He is there, everywhere with his comrades, Sailors and Marines, rendering emergency medical services and caring for them when they’re sick; giving all the support they need: moral, emotional, physical, mental, social, and spiritual as well.

Of his nursing and medical experiences in the field or battlefield, the Marines call him “Doc” because he cares for them until the end.

In a ship or a hospital, he’s everywhere, here and there: in the wards or the Lab, in the Pharmacy or Radiology, in the Emergency or the Galley, sometimes in the Quarterdeck or PSD, in Sick Call or in Supply. But, despite his job, he can still smile and have fun, even for a while.

He’s a healthcare provider and a health record keeper. He is a giver and a peacekeeper. He’s a writer, teacher, and lecturer. He’s so talented, can you not tell?

He’s a Hospital Corpsman, proud to serve his fellowmen in sickness or health, in wartime or peacetime; He’s always ready to care, serve, and protect…

Here’s the Hospital Corpsman’s Oath or Pledge:

“I solemnly pledge myself before God and these witnesses to practice faithfully all of my duties as a member of the Hospital Corps. I hold the care of the sick and injured to be a privilege and a sacred trust and will assist the Medical Officer with loyalty and honesty. I will not knowingly permit harm to come to any patient. I will not partake of nor administer any unauthorized medication. I will hold all personal matters pertaining to the private lives of patients in strict confidence. I dedicate my heart, mind and strength to the work before me. I shall do all within my power to show in myself an example of all that is honorable and good throughout my Naval Career.”

To all our hospital corpsmen everywhere, kudos and thank you for a job well done, and always ready to heed the call, “Corpsman up.” May God bless you and your families always.