Medical Corps (United States Army)

Medical Corps (United States Army)
United States Army
Medical Corps
US Army Medical Corps Branch Plaque.gif
The U.S. Army Medical Corps
Branch Plaque
Active 1908 – present day
Country United States
Branch United States Army
Motto None

The Medical Corps (MC) of the U.S. Army is a staff corps (non-combat specialty branch) of the U.S. Army Medical Department (AMEDD) consisting of commissioned medical officers – physicians with either an MD or a DO degree, at least one year of post-graduate clinical training, and a state medical license.

The MC traces its earliest origins to the first physicians recruited by the Medical Department of the Army, created by the Continental Congress in 1775. Congress made official the designation "Medical Corps" in 1908, although the term had long been in use informally among the Medical Department's regular physicians.

Currently, the MC consists of over 4,400 active duty physicians representing all the specialties and subspecialties of civilian medicine. They may be assigned to fixed military medical facilities, to deployable combat units or to military medical research and development duties. They are considered fully deployable soldiers. The Chief of the Medical Corps Branch (under the Army's Human Resources Command) is a colonel; the Chief, Medical Corps (under the North Atlantic Regional Medical Command) is a major general; and the senior-most Medical Corps officer in the Army is the U.S. Army Surgeon General, a lieutenant general.




Both the Army Medical Department and the Medical Corps trace their origins to 27 July 1775, when the Continental Congress established the first Army Hospital to be headed by a "Director General and Chief Physician". The language of the Congressional resolution spoke of “an Hospital” which in those days meant a hospital system or medical department. Among the accomplishments of Army surgeons during the years of the Revolution was completion (in 1778, at Lititz, Pennsylvania) of the first pharmacopoeia printed in America. In 1789, the Department of the Hospital was disbanded and a system of "Regimental Surgeons" was established in its place.

18th and 19th centuries

During the period that followed (1789–1818) Congress provided for a medical organization for the Army only in time of war or emergency. For example, in 1812 Congress established the Medical Department of the Northern Army as a response to the need for medical support during operations in the War of 1812. In 1816, medical officers were given uniforms (but not military rank) for the first time. A permanent and continuous Medical Department was not established until 1818. That year a “Surgeon General” was appointed (Dr. Joseph Lovell, the first to hold that specific title) and since then a succession of Surgeons General and a permanent Corps organization in the Army Medical Department have followed. Physicians assigned to the U.S. Army were finally accorded military rank in 1847, although the old Regimental Surgeon system of additional designations ("Assistant Surgeon", "Surgeon") was also retained until 1908.

In 1862, Surgeon General William Alexander Hammond proposed establishment of an "Army Medical School" in which medical cadets and others seeking admission to the MC could receive such post-graduate instruction as would better fit them for military commissions. It was over 30 years, however, before Surgeon General George M. Sternberg would found (1893) the Army Medical School (AMS), the precursor institution to today’s Walter Reed Army Institute of Research.

William Chester Minor, a Union Army surgeon during the Civil War, later became a major contributor to the Oxford English Dictionary, during a lengthy hospitalization in England (see The Surgeon of Crowthorne, which contains information about his war-time experiences).

20th century

Congress made official the designation "Medical Corps" in 1908, although the term had long been in use informally among the Medical Department's regular physicians.

The Army Medical School was housed in the Army Medical Museum and Library building in Washington, DC, between 1893 and 1910.

World War I brought a realization of the need to provide more than the “finishing school” approach of the AMS to military medical education and indoctrination and in 1920, the Medical Department first established hospital internships as a method of acquiring new officers for the MC. Meanwhile, the role of the AMS (which would become the Army Medical Center in 1923) was taken over by the new Medical Field Service School which opened at Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania in 1921. Its purpose was to train both new medical officers and newly enlisted medics in the practice of field medicine. (This school was transferred to Texas in 1973 and became the Academy of Health Sciences – known since 1991 as the AMEDD Center & School).

The first woman to receive a Regular Army commission in the MC was Major Margaret D. Craighill in 1943. She was assigned as Chief Surgeon to the Women’s Army Corps. In 1946, Army residency programs for MC officers were introduced into the Medical Department, providing for the first time the full spectrum of graduate medical education to prospective MC officers. (Completing this trend, medical school training has been provided for military students since the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USUHS) was established in 1972, graduating its first class in 1980. USUHS is the United States' center for military medical education. Its primary mission is to prepare its graduates for service in the medical corps of all the uniformed services of the country.) During the Vietnam era, serious physician shortfalls were experienced by the Defense Department and it was at this time (1966) that osteopathic physicians, which had previously been excluded from active military service, were first admitted to the MC.

21st century

As of mid-2008, the number of active duty doctors serving in the MC nearly met the requirement of 4,448 authorized positions. Primary care specialties represented the greatest shortfall in endstrength numbers[1].

Career fields

The traditional U.S. Army version of the caduceus. The 1902 adoption of this ancient symbol of the Greek god Hermes for U.S. Army medical officer uniforms popularized the symbol throughout the world.

U.S. Army physicians serve in one of several general career fields.

Operational Medicine is the field of Army medicine that provides medical support to the Soldier and his/her Chain of Command. Many Operational Physicians serve as Division, Brigade and Battalion level Surgeons (the word "surgeon" is used to identify a physician that is assigned to a unit as a primary care provider and not necessarily as a General Surgeon). These Physicians are either assigned through the "PROFIS" system or through permanent assignment (PCS). Deployments with units to combat theaters are for the duration of a deployment and the jobs are mostly filled by primary care physicians. A PROFIS provider can expect to be deployed away from their family for a total of 16 months (1 month before deployment, 12 months in theater, and 3 months for "stabilization" after return to the assigned units home station). This means that primary care physicians are deployed for longer periods than most "specialist Physicians". A specialist (ie..General Surgeon, Trauma Surgeon, Rheumatologist) are usually deployed for 6 months. Operational Physicians should expect that greater than 60% of their time will be spent in administrative roles and non-patient care. 40% of the Operational providers time is spent caring for Soldiers or supervising unit Physician Assistant's(PA). With the recent BCT (Brigade Combat Team) restructuring, the demand for Operational Surgeons have increased. Likely the poor retention of Captain's and junior Major Physician's in the primary care fields are due to the relative inequality of deployment length and deployment frequency.

Clinical Medicine is the field of Army medicine where a Physician in uniform basically functions like a Physician in the Civilian arena. These Physicians are assigned to the various Army MEDCENs (Medical Centers) and MEDDACs (Medical Department Activities, i.e., hospitals and clinics). Each of these Physicians are assigned to a PROFIS unit. Usually primary care physicians deploy to fill Battalion level Surgeon positions. Medical Specialists deploy to support CSH (combat support hospitals).

Research Medicine is filled by the minority of military physicians. Most of these research Physicians are based in larger Army Medical Centers.[2]

See also



  1. ^ Medical Operational Data System (MODS), "AMEDD Deployment Data"; Available from
  2. ^ History, Training, and Education (AMEDD website), "AMEDD FAQ and General Info"; Available from

Other sources

External links

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