They call me "Doc..."

Tuesday, August 18, 2015 |

It is difficult sometimes to describe to people just what it is that I’ve done for a living in the Navy.  It is especially difficult to talk to civilians about my job because they have no concept of even my basic skills, but even to people in military medical occupations it is hard to explain.
I always start by giving the technical name of my job. I was a Fleet Marine Force (FMF) Independent Duty Hospital Corpsman.  This title does not automatically conjure up any images for most people. In fact, probably the only people this means anything to are other Independent Duty Corpsmen or their Supervising Physicians.
I think the reason it is so difficult for people to understand what our job out here (on U.S. Navy warships, specifically frigates, destroyers, cruisers, and submarines) is that it is an ever-changing role that we are constantly adapting to.
My responsibilities were fairly well defined in my guiding instructions. In the most basic terms my job was to:
               1) Prevent illness and injury.
               2) Treat illness and injury.
               3) If unable to treat, to route the ill or injured to definitive care.
These seem to be fairly simple principles, that is until you examine what is being said between the lines.
I begin by explaining what I've done as seen from the eyes of the crew. To them I was simply "Doc".  In their eyes I was the person they went to when they were sick or hurt, and I’ve made them better.  That is all they know; that is all they want to know.  To that end let's look at what has to be done to give them what they want.  I'm going to put this in very simple terms at the risk of sounding pretentious and self-assuming, but hell, this is my story, so here goes.
To begin with, you can say that I’ve practiced medicine without a license. I’ve maintained a fully stocked pharmacy complete with narcotics, antibiotics, and many other medications which I was authorized to prescribe for my patients.
I’ve maintained a fully operational emergency room complete with cardiac drugs, and an operating room with its various and sundry appliances and surgical instruments.  I’ve performed surgical procedures.  I’ve been the Marine’s psychologist and, at times, the psychiatrist if drugs are required.  I was the ship’s nurse, orderly, and medical janitor.
I was the marriage counselor, the social worker, the chaplain.  I’ve provided legal counsel and financial counsel.  I’ve informed people of their rights to various medical and dental insurance plans as the health benefits advisor.
I was a teacher of many things including CPR, physical fitness, preventive medicine, etc.  I was a food inspector, a sewage inspector, and a water inspector.  I’ve ensured that the ship’s store is clean, the barber is trained, and the sleeping areas are within acceptable standards.
I was a secretary, a transcriptionist, and a medical billing clerk.  I was a laboratory technician and a supply officer and a stock control worker.
I was a biomedical equipment repairman and a hospital liaison.  I was an inventory control specialist, a computer operator, a records and file clerk. I was an occupational medicine technician, an industrial hygiene expert, and a hazardous materials control person.  I was a safety officer and a Healthy Lifestyles program manager.  I was a medevac coordinator, a paramedic, a combat corpsman, an infectious disease interviewer, and a medical librarian.
With all this to do it would seem that my day was very full, and indeed it was.  However, if was doing my job correctly all these things will be transparent to the line people that I’ve worked hand in hand with.  You see, this is just the part that makes me "Doc" to the crew.
But there's much more, because, you see, I was a sailor too!  As a sailor there are certain fundamental requirements that must be maintained in addition to what I have already listed.  I had to be adept at firefighting, war fighting, and special evolutions of the ship such as underway, man overboard, replenishment and flight operations. Not only did I have to know my field operations’ strategies, I had to know my ship, how it functions, and what its capabilities are.
I’ve taught young sailors how to be sailors; I’ve taught Marines basic (and some advanced) first aid and how to handle, carry and transport a medevac patient; I was a passer of traditions, a teacher of lore.  I was a leader and a follower.  I’ve ensured a fair working climate exists through equal opportunity lectures and surveys.  I’ve motivated, disciplined, and mentored.
I was an Officer of the Deck in friendly ports, and the medical guard in foreign ports.
I was a leader in charge of Quartermasters, Administrative personnel, Yeomen, and my one "Baby Doc".  I know it sounds as though I am complaining, but truly I am not.  As I said, I just wanted to tell people what I’ve done in my job.  There is still more.  I was the advisor to the Commanding Officer for any medical situation that may occur.  This includes everything from eating fish caught over the side to whether or not we should change the course or even alter the mission of the ship to care for a fallen sailor or marine.
I’ve downed pilots and evaluated refugees.  I’ve responded to calls for help from people whose languages I don’t even understand.  I’ve boarded vessels in support of my shipmates whose job it is to search for illegal contraband on the high seas.
I’ve served as the ship’s Administrative Officer, and as the Assistant Navigator.  I’ve traveled by helicopter, small boat, ambulance, and whatever other means to ensure that medical care is delivered wherever it is required.    I’ve stayed up nights caring for people and wondering if what I have done for a sick sailor is correct.  I‘ve called for advice thirteen thousand miles from home and over a thousand miles away from the nearest shore or ship to be told by a trained Emergency Room doctor,  "I'm glad I'm not you".
I’ve spent the night at the bedside of my patients worried, scared, frustrated, and totally alone. I’ve cried with my patients.  I’ve yelled at them and consoled them.  I’ve told patients that they have everything from jock itch and sexually transmitted diseases to malaria, leukemia, and brain aneurysms.  I’ve cured some and transferred others.
My job was the job that is done by my counterparts in the “civilian world.”  Under the sea, this job is done by the Submarine IDCs and the Dive IDCs, in field by the Fleet Marine Force IDCs, the Aviation, SEAL, and the SEABEE IDCs.
I am proud of what I do. I am grateful for the trust and confidence that have been given to me, not only by Navy leadership, but more importantly by each of those people, each of MY MARINES who call me "Doc".


FMF Devil Doc said...

I just wanted to take a moment to say "thank you" for your post on the allnurses forum. I am no longer a member to that forum and had quit reading posts out of frustration for ignorance. I revisited the post out of curiosity today and read your reply. You have my upmost respect, RAH DEVIL DOC!

Alex said...

Wow, a really passionately-written post. Really enjoyed reading it - written with absolute fire!

By the way, I run a health site - are you open to blogroll mention exchanges? I wouldn't find a better way to contact you, so if you are, please reach out to genadinik [at]

And sorry again for the clumsy way to get in touch.

Alex said...

sorry, typo - was supposed to say couldn't find instead of wouldn't find :)

Anonymous said...

Wow! I'm glad to know what other kind of medical practitioners are there. Your case is a very flexible job, the one that requires, accuracy, ability, flexibility and adaptability at all times. Kudos to you!

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Christefer York said...

I've been out now for over a year and I am currently working on my BSN. I was there with the marines, on a DDG, and LHD. I was that baby doc. I always wonder how to get my family and friends to realize what we (HM) do. I will now fwd your article to them. Thank you for your summation because I loose track of everything I've done. Hoorah

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