Medical Corps (United States Army)
The Medical Corps of the U.S. Army
United States Army
The United States Army is the main branch of the United States Armed Forces responsible for land-based military operations. It is the largest and oldest established branch of the U.S. military, and is one of seven U.S. uniformed services...

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
Doctor of Medicine
Doctor of Medicine is a doctoral degree for physicians. The degree is granted by medical schools...

 or a DO degree, at least one year of post-graduate clinical training, and a state medical license
Medical license
In most countries, only persons with a medical license bestowed either by a specified government-approved professional association or a government agency are authorized to practice medicine. Licenses are not granted automatically to all people with medical degrees...


The MC traces its earliest origins to the first physicians recruited by the Medical Department of the Army, created by the Continental Congress
Continental Congress
The Continental Congress was a convention of delegates called together from the Thirteen Colonies that became the governing body of the United States during the American Revolution....

 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
Active duty
Active duty refers to a full-time occupation as part of a military force, as opposed to reserve duty.-Pakistan:The Pakistan Armed Forces are one of the largest active service forces in the world with almost 610,000 full time personnel due to the complex and volatile nature of Pakistan's...

 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
Research and development
The phrase research and development , according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, refers to "creative work undertaken on a systematic basis in order to increase the stock of knowledge, including knowledge of man, culture and society, and the use of this stock of...

 duties. They are considered fully deployable
Military deployment
Military deployment is the movement of armed forces and their logistical support infrastructure around the world.-United States:The United States Military defines the term as follows:...

 soldiers. The Chief of the Medical Corps Branch (under the Army's Human Resources Command) is a colonel
Colonel (United States)
In the United States Army, Air Force, and Marine Corps, colonel is a senior field grade military officer rank just above the rank of lieutenant colonel and just below the rank of brigadier general...

; the Chief, Medical Corps (under the North Atlantic Regional Medical Command) is a major general
Major general (United States)
In the United States Army, United States Marine Corps, and United States Air Force, major general is a two-star general-officer rank, with the pay grade of O-8. Major general ranks above brigadier general and below lieutenant general...

; and the senior-most Medical Corps officer in the Army is the U.S. Army Surgeon General, a lieutenant general
Lieutenant General (United States)
In the United States Army, the United States Air Force and the United States Marine Corps, lieutenant general is a three-star general officer rank, with the pay grade of O-9. Lieutenant general ranks above major general and below 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
Lititz, Pennsylvania
Lititz is a borough in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, 6 miles north of the city of Lancaster.-History:Lititz was founded by members of the Moravian Church in 1756, and was named after a castle in Bohemia near the village of Kunvald where the ancient Bohemian Brethren's Church had...

) of the first pharmacopoeia
Pharmacopoeia, pharmacopeia, or pharmacopoea, , in its modern technical sense, is a book containing directions for the identification of samples and the preparation of compound medicines, and published by the authority of a government or a medical or pharmaceutical society.In a broader sense it is...

 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
War of 1812
The War of 1812 was a military conflict fought between the forces of the United States of America and those of the British Empire. The Americans declared war in 1812 for several reasons, including trade restrictions because of Britain's ongoing war with France, impressment of American merchant...

. 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
Joseph Lovell
Dr. Joseph Lovell was the 8th Surgeon General of the United States Army, ,-Family:Lovell was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of James S. and Deborah 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
William Alexander Hammond
William Alexander Hammond, M.D. was an American neurologist and the 11th Surgeon General of the U.S. Army...

 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
Army Medical School
Founded by U.S. Army Brigadier General George Miller Sternberg, MD in 1893, the Army Medical School was by some reckonings the world's first school of public health and preventive medicine...

 (AMS), the precursor institution to today’s Walter Reed Army Institute of Research
Walter Reed Army Institute of Research
This article is about the U.S. Army medical research institute . Otherwise, see Walter Reed .The Walter Reed Army Institute of Research is the largest biomedical research facility administered by the U.S. Department of Defense...


William Chester Minor
William Chester Minor
William Chester Minor, also known as W. C. Minor was an American army surgeon who, later, was one of the largest contributors of quotations to the Oxford English Dictionary...

, 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
The Surgeon of Crowthorne
The Surgeon of Crowthorne: A Tale of Murder, Madness and the Love of Words is a book by Simon Winchester that was first published in England in 1998...

, 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.

World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

 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
Margaret D. Craighill
Margaret Dorothea Craighill was born October 16, 1898 in Southport, North Carolina, the daughter of Colonel William E. and Mrs. Mary Craighill. On May 28, 1943, she became the first woman commissioned officer in the United States Army Medical Corps...

 in 1943. She was assigned as Chief Surgeon to the Women’s Army Corps. In 1946, Army residency programs
Residency (medicine)
Residency is a stage of graduate medical training. A resident physician or resident is a person who has received a medical degree , Podiatric degree , Dental Degree and who practices...

 for MC officers were introduced into the Medical Department, providing for the first time the full spectrum of graduate medical education
Medical education
Medical education is education related to the practice of being a medical practitioner, either the initial training to become a doctor or additional training thereafter ....

 to prospective MC officers. (Completing this trend, medical school
Medical school
A medical school is a tertiary educational institution—or part of such an institution—that teaches medicine. Degree programs offered at medical schools often include Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine, Bachelor/Doctor of Medicine, Doctor of Philosophy, master's degree, or other post-secondary...

 training has been provided for military students since the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences
Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences
The Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences is a health science university run by the U.S. federal government. The primary mission of the school is to prepare graduates for service to the U.S. at home and abroad in the medical corps....

 (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
Uniformed services of the United States
The United States has seven federal uniformed services that commission officers as defined by Title 10, and subsequently structured and organized by Title 10, Title 14, Title 33 and Title 42 of the United States Code.-Uniformed services:...

.) During the Vietnam era
Vietnam War
The Vietnam War was a Cold War-era military conflict that occurred in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia from 1 November 1955 to the fall of Saigon on 30 April 1975. This war followed the First Indochina War and was fought between North Vietnam, supported by its communist allies, and the government of...

, 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
Primary care
Primary care is the term for the health services by providers who act as the principal point of consultation for patients within a health care system...

 specialties represented the greatest shortfall in endstrength numbers.

Career fields

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.

See also

  • U.S. Army Medical Command (MEDCOM)
  • United States Army Medical Department Museum
    United States Army Medical Department Museum
    The U.S. Army Medical Department Museum or AMEDD Museum, Fort Sam Houston, San Antonio, Texas, originated as part of the Army's Field Service School at Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania. It moved to Fort Sam Houston in 1946. It is currently a component of the U.S...

  • United States Navy Medical Corps
  • United States Air Force Medical Corps

Other sources

  • Engleman, Rose C. and Robert T. J. Joy (1975), 200 Years of Military Medicine, The Historical Unit of the US Army Medical Department, Fort Detrick, Maryland.
  • Gillett, Mary C. (1981), The Army Medical Department, 1775–1818, Washington, DC: United States Army Center of Military History, United States Army. (Series: Army Historical Series)
  • Gillett, Mary C. (1987), The Army Medical Department, 1818–1865, Washington, DC: Center of Military History, United States Army. (Series: Army Historical Series)
  • Gillett, Mary C. (1995), The Army Medical Department, 1865–1917, Washington, DC: Center of Military History, United States Army. (Series: Army Historical Series)
  • Gillett, Mary C. (2009), The Army Medical Department, 1917–1941, Washington, DC: Center of Military History, United States Army. (Series: Army Historical Series)

External links

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