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Navy Medicine’s transformation: How hospital corpsmen fit in

By Force Master Chief Hosea Smith Jr.
Director, U.S. Navy Hospital Corps

Several weeks ago, the U.S. Navy surgeon general outlined the significant changes that will reshape our Navy Medicine mission toward greater readiness.

We are refining our organizational structure so we can ensure a medically ready force – Sailors and Marines ready to fight tonight if called upon. Navy Medicine’s reorganization will also ensure a ready medical force – medical personnel with the right skills and training to deploy and support our warfighters.

As Navy Medicine’s force master chief and director of the Hospital Corps, the largest enlisted rating in the Navy, I am responsible for all hospital corpsmen, the dedicated men and women who play a significant role in the care of our Sailors and Marines across the globe.

In the future that Vice Adm. Faison described, our corpsmen will become even more critical to saving lives. Their skills are already sharp, but we can always do better. We’ve launched several efforts that will improve corpsmen’s readiness to serve in combat environments.

INDIAN OCEAN (March 13, 2019) Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Casey Phillips, center, from Peoria, Arizona, coordinates triage of critical patients during a mass casualty drill in the hangar bay aboard the aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis (CVN 74) in the Indian Ocean. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Jarrod A. Schad/Released)


Training Provides Real Life Experience

First and foremost, I am extremely proud of the progress we’ve made instituting Hospital Corpsman Trauma Training. This program started as a proof-of-concept in Fall 2017 with 30 brand new corpsmen who completed 12 weeks of training at the Capt. James A. Lovell Federal Health Care Center (FHCC) and John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital of Cook County in Chicago, Illinois.

Part of the training involved classroom instruction, but the real core involved a hands-on experience at Cook County hospital focused on trauma resuscitation, trauma intensive care unit, burn unit, and the emergency department. Seasoned nurses and senior independent duty corpsmen provided guidance and supervision, as well as first-class instruction grounded in their real world experiences.

Since then, we have sent two additional cohorts of corpsmen to trauma training at FHCC, with three additional groups currently planned for this year. This includes a new partnership with the University of Florida Health Shands, where corpsmen in Jacksonville, Florida, recently started their hands-on trauma experience.

There is no doubt in my mind that the corpsmen who go through trauma training gain the confidence and technical abilities to expertly treat Sailors and Marines in operational settings. Not only does this opportunity enhance our warfighting capabilities, it expands our partnerships with our civilian counterparts, providing a larger network of training environments.

CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. (Feb. 11, 2019) Medical personnel assigned to Navy Medicine Readiness and Training Command Jacksonville’s Expeditionary Medical Facility (EMF) Mike perform trauma care on a mock patient during a two-week training at Naval Expeditionary Medical Training Institute in Camp Pendleton, California. (U.S. Navy photo courtesy of Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Joseph Castro/Released)


Corpsmen Receive Continuing Education

Navy Medicine continues exploring all avenues for the talented men and women of the Hospital Corps to gain real-life experiences that better prepare them to save lives throughout the continuum of care. Several years ago, Navy Medicine assessed Hospital Corps “A” school, the 14 weeks of initial training that instill medical fundamentals in new corpsmen. This analysis resulted in changes to the curriculum, emphasizing the knowledge and analytical abilities necessary for corpsmen to successfully treat wounded Sailors and Marines as their first point of contact on the battlefield.

Because basic education isn’t enough, these skills and abilities must be consistently practiced. In late 2017, we announced updated criteria for Personnel Qualification Standards (PQS), which is in essence continuing education for corpsmen. These requirements encourage corpsmen to deepen their understanding of the human body and medical treatment techniques.

Have these new standards been effective? This month, we are gathering the available data to validate our “A” school curriculum and follow-on PQS requirements, or identify if new training standards might be needed.

Hospital corpsmen are called to serve on a moment’s notice in a broad variety of medical capacities and operational environments. Our rating is incredibly diverse and in some cases very specialized, but we are all focused on readiness – keeping our skills sharp, and our nation’s warfighters healthy and on the job.

Previous blog: “Building Navy Medicine’s Future: Taking A Bearing” by By Vice Adm. Forrest Faison, U.S. Navy Surgeon General and Chief, U.S. Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery.

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