Learn About Being a Navy Hospital Corpsman

Navy Hospital Corpsman taking a patient's temperature
Public domain/Wikimedia Commons

In brief, Navy Corpsmen may be considered the seagoing version of Army medics, but the truth is much more complex -– and rewarding, for those who value having options.

As enlisted careers go, Corpsmen have a broader scope than similar specialties in the Army and Air Force. Their soldier and airman counterparts have equivalent duties, but the more technical of these are divided up among other occupations (about 15 in each branch.) Meanwhile, Hospital Corpsman (HM) is the only enlisted medical rating in the Navy, and its wide variety of specializations make it the most diverse and comprehensive enlisted medical job in the US military.

Duties and Responsibilities

Even basic Hospital Corpsmen perform many medical and clerical duties that are sometimes divided up piecemeal among multiple occupations in the other services.

As expected, they’re the heart of emergency, routine, and preventive medical care for sailors and Marines across the fleet. However, HMs also run administrative and logistical support for Navy medicine, support pharmacy, dental, and lab diagnostic work, and provide patient education ranging from basic health and wellness briefs to battlefield first aid training.

Specializations for Corpsmen are identified by Navy Enlisted Classification Codes (NECs) similar to Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) codes in the Army and Marines. HMs earn different NECs through follow-on training. Voluntary assignment to these schools may be competitive, though the Navy can also assign sailors based on its needs. Graduates of these programs take their new skills to special billets in the fleet.

There are 38 Corpsman NECs, each with unique requirements. Remember, NECs are opportunities for those already enlisted in the HM rating, not contractually-guaranteed occupations and not always permanent assignments. Rod Powers has a complete list of Corpsman NECs, but here are just a few highlights:

  • Biomedical Equipment Technicians maintain and repair diagnostic equipment like X-ray machines. Click the link for more details and a comparison with similar jobs in the Army and Air Force.
  • Independent Duty Corpsmen in several fields -- including surface ships and submarines – are experienced HMs that serve as care providers in the absence of doctors.
  • Medical Laboratory Technicians do the dirty work of clinical lab tests, including blood tests, urinalysis, toxicology, and blood transfusions.
  • Dental Assistants and Hygienists, once part of a separate rating, are now Corpsmen NECs.
  • Field Medical Service Technicians -- referred to affectionately by Marines as “Doc” -– are the combat medics of the Marine Corps. They’re responsible for keeping Leathernecks alive and healthy whether they’re embroiled in the heat of battle or languishing in boredom inside the wire.

Military Requirements

Joining the Hospital Corps requires a five-year enlistment in the Navy. HMs must have a high school diploma or equivalent before signing up, and a score of 146 on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery-based on Verbal Expression, Mathematics Knowledge, and General Science scores.

Education

After basic training in Great Lakes IL, new Corpsmen used to walk right across the street for their “A” school.

But in 2010, training moved to the Medical Education and Training Campus (METC) at Fort Sam Houston, San Antonio, Texas, where sailors train co-educationally with their sister services.

Although branch-specific portions of the curriculum protect the unique identity of the Corpsmen trained there, consolidation at METC provided opportunities to exchange ideas with the Army and Air Force, and generally improve the course. In a 2009 article heralding the move, Navy Times staff writer Michelle Tan learned that by joining forces, the three branches hoped to “glean each service’s best practices . . . [and] also implement the latest medical research.”

Although the METC website hasn’t yet released a curriculum page for Navy Corpsmen, it appears the course is conducted over about 3 months -- at least part of that time co-educational with soldiers and airmen -- and incorporates material on both Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) and nursing practices.

Certifications

Navy Credentialing Opportunities Online (COOL) indicates that basic and intermediate EMT certification at the national level may be funded by the Montgomery GI Bill or Navy tuition assistance. The chance to test out may not be available at METC, but with EMT training on the curriculum, finding the time at your first duty station to take the certification exam is a no-brainer.

By maintaining a national certification in the service, veteran Corpsmen can transition easily to a civilian career, or even use EMT as a fallback position if they wish to pursue other opportunities. Some states readily accept national certification, while others -- worst case scenario – may require another examination for a state license.

The rest of COOL's certification list is immense -– from Registered Medical Technician to Practical, Vocational, and Registered Nursing -- again reflecting the broad nature of the HM rating and its many opportunities for specialization.