When you hear the term, “doc,” you commonly think of a doctor. However, when military men and women hear this term, you can expect that they are referring to a U.S. Navy Hospital Corpsman. If you were to ask an ordinary person walking on the street about military medicine, they would probably be clueless. Military medicine does not get the exposure it deserves in the world. Sure, there are those medical television shows such as Grey’s Anatomy and Combat Hospital, which feature a couple of characters who have practiced or are currently practicing military medicine, but these shows tend to misrepresent the facts.
At the heart of military medicine are U.S. Navy Hospital Corpsmen, who provide treatment for thousands of sailors and marines. Corpsmen work in hospitals, clinics and aboard ships as medics. Trainees are required to attend Boot Camp where they must do tasks including running a little over two miles a day, and “standing in a chamber full of tear gas to recite their names.” Boot camp is not for the weak. Until 2005, corpsmen were trained at Corps School in Great Lakes, Illinois until it was relocated to the Medical Education and Training Campus at Joint Base San Antonio, Texas. An average day in Corps school, also known as “A” school, entails waking up early and learning a variety of subjects including emergency medicine, anatomy and physiology, to name just a few. Exams are taken every single week and it is a fast paced learning environment. Those that make it through A school graduation are given the Navy Enlisted Classification code of HM-0000.
There are various ranks that a hospital corpsman can achieve, from E-1, or hospitalman recruit, all the way to E-9, Master Chief Hospital Corpsman. To get promoted, Hospital Corpsmen must pass a test, which is given out twice a year, once in March, and once in September. There are two hundred questions to be answered; one hundred and fifty of them are medical questions, and the remaining fifty are BMR questions, or basic military requirement questions.
HM3, or third class petty officer, Maria Arvelo, a U.S. Navy Hospital Corpsman from New York, enlisted in the Navy at the age of eighteen “I was chosen to be a corpsman. I signed up for the Navy and based on my ASVAB, Armed Services vocational Aptitude Battery, test scores and what was available for a job, I was made a corpsman.” After spending a couple of months in Great Lakes, Illinois, which corpsmen have playfully nicknamed as “great mistakes,” Maria was called to her first duty station at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. This past September, the NNMC merged with the Walter Reed Army Medical Center to create the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (WRNMMC). Maria was first placed in the emergency room, where she attended to such tasks as wrapping broken ankles, and monitoring fevers of patients. Every two years, corpsmen are moved from duty station to station. After working in the E.R., Maria became the receptionist for the Coumadin clinic in the Cardiology department at the Bethesda Naval Medical Center. She later worked in the clinic pricking patients’ fingers to test their blood clotting ability.
These men and women also can serve as battlefield corpsmen. Corpsmen assigned to a Marine Unit serve as medics for the marines on battlefields. They deploy where the Marines are deployed to places such as Afghanistan. Corpsmen are on the battlefield to save the lives of the Marines who are in danger.
One of the great things about the Navy is that it allows for its enlisted navy men and women to travel the world, which is what the twenty-two year old Maria is currently doing. “I work at the front desk in the radiology department at the U.S. Naval Hospital [in] Rota, Spain.” There are a wide array of American naval medical hospitals around the world, including those in Okinawa, Japan and Sigonella, Italy.
HM3 Arvelo loves Rota, but admitted that times did get difficult: “You make really good friends [in the Navy, and] you meet a whole bunch of people, which is awesome. But you also say goodbye to people a lot, which sucks, but we signed up for it.” When one is moving around so often, it is easy to lose touch with your friends, but Maria claims that Facebook is primarily how she keeps her friendships alive even as she is abroad.
There are many benefits to joining the Navy. Education is taken seriously and there are a variety of programs corpsmen can apply for in order to pursue their goals. The NCP, Nurse Candidate Program, for example, provides a monthly stipend for full time nursing students. After graduation, participants join the Navy Nurse Corps as an officer.
So where does HM3 Maria Arvelo think she’ll be in a couple of years? “I would like to eventually be a nurse.” Maria is working hard towards her goal, but still has two more years in Spain. She will be eligible to get out of the Navy in 2014, but she is still undecided as to whether or not she wants to re-enlist. “Being in the military, I’m being offered so many opportunities to be a nurse or doctor and I like that,” she says. When asked why she likes being a corpsman, she says, “I enjoy being a corpsman because of the reputation. So many good things come out of it. A lot of corpsman get awards. I’m very proud to be a corpsman. I wouldn’t have it any other way.” To this date, there have been twenty-two corpsman who have received the prestigious Medal of Honor. To be a U.S. Naval Hospital Corpsman means to gain the utmost level of respect.
- United States Navy Recruiting Command. “Medical Support.” Accessed December 10, 2011.
- Arvelo, Maria. Personal interview. November 23, 2011.
- Public Affairs Office, Navy Medicine Support Command. “Naval Medicine Training Command (NMTC) Fort Sam Houston, Commissioned”. Corpsman.com. December 30, 2010.
- Powers, Rod. “Navy Enlisted Rating (Job) Descriptions and Qualification Factors.” USMilitary.About.com . The New York Times Company. Accessed December 10, 2011.
- “Navy Medicine .” Med.Navy.mil. Accessed December 10, 2011.
- BMC Mayport. June 19, 2003. “Happy 105th Birthday To The Hospital Corps”
- Image credit (public domain): McCandless, Michelle. “Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Brian Campbell from Kannapolis, N.C., gives a patient a shot to treat an allergic reaction.” Wikimedia Commons. January 24, 2003.
- Image credit (public domain): Garcia, Jeanine. “Chief Hospital Corpsman Leslie Amlag from Lexington, Kan., and Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Summer Barretto from Billings, Mont., tend to a patient’s injured finger aboard USS Abraham Lincoln.” Wikimedia Commons. April 5, 2003.