What is My Job?

HMC (SW) C. J. "Joe" Fischer, USN

15 November 1997


Underway, Arabian Gulf

It is difficult sometimes to describe to people just what it is that I do for a living. 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 am a Surface Force 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 are fairly well defined in my guiding instructions. In the most basic terms my job is 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 do as seen from the eyes of the crew. To them I am simply "Doc". In their eyes I am the person they go to when they are sick or hurt, and I make 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 practice medicine without a license. I maintain a fully stocked pharmacy complete with narcotics, antibiotics, and many other medications which I am authorized to prescribe for my patients. I maintain a fully operational emergency room complete with cardiac drugs, and an operating room with its various and sundry appliances and surgical instruments. I perform surgical procedures. I am the ship's psychologist and, at times, the psychiatrist if drugs are required. I am the ship's nurse, orderly, and medical janitor.

I am a marriage counselor, a social worker, a chaplain. I provide legal counsel and financial counsel. I inform people of their rights to various medical and dental insurance plans as the health benefits advisor. I am a teacher of many things including CPR, physical fitness, preventive medicine, etc. I am a food inspector, a sewage inspector, and a water inspector. I ensure that the ship's store is clean, the barber is trained, and the sleeping areas are within acceptable standards.

I am a secretary, a transcriptionist, and a medical billing clerk. I am a laboratory technician and a supply officer and a stock control worker. I am a biomedical equipment repairman and a hospital liaison. I am an inventory control specialist, a computer operator, a records and file clerk. I am an occupational medicine technician, an industrial hygiene expert, and a hazardous materials control person. I am a safety officer and a Healthy Lifestyles program manager. I am 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 is very full, and indeed it is. However, if I am doing my job correctly all these things will be transparent to the line people that I work 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 am a sailor too! As a sailor there are certain fundamental requirements that must be maintained in addition to what I have already listed. I must be adept at firefighting, warfighting, and special evolutions of the ship such as underway replenishment and flight operations. I have to know my ship, how it functions, and what its capabilities are. I teach young sailors how to be sailors; I am a passer of traditions, a teacher of lore. I am a leader and a follower. I ensure a fair working climate exists through equal opportunity lectures and surveys. I motivate, discipline, and mentor. I am an Officer of the Deck in friendly ports, and the medical guard in foreign ports.

I am a leader in charge of Quartermasters, Personnel men, Yeomen, and my one "Baby Doc". I am a member of DCTT and ITT and PB4T and various other acronymic groups that each have profound responsibilities regarding the training and readiness of the ship. I am a point of contact for CART, TSTA, FEP, MRA, DRA, IH, EH, LOA, IERA, MCA, NAVOSH, and a dozen other inspections from groups with names like ATG, RSO, CRUDESGRU, and COMNAVSURFPAC.

I know it sounds as though I am complaining, but truly I am not. As I said, I just want to be able to tell people what it is I do in my job. There is still more. I am 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 down pilots and evaluate refugees. I respond to calls for help from people whose languages I don't even understand. I board vessels in support of my shipmates whose job it is to search for illegal contraband on the high seas.

I have served as the ship's Administrative Officer, and as the Assistant Navigator. I travel by helicopter, small boat, ambulance, and whatever other means to ensure that medical care is delivered wherever it is required. I stay up nights caring for people and wondering if what I have done for a sick sailor is correct. I have 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 have spent the night at the bedside of my patients worried, scared, frustrated, and totally alone. I have cried with my patients. I have yelled at them and consoled them. I have told patients that they have everything from jock itch and sexually transmitted diseases to malaria, leukemia, and brain aneurysms. I have cured some and transferred others.

My job is the job that is done by my counterparts in other warfare specialties. 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 who call me "Doc".

I am a

Surface Force (SW) Independent Duty Hospital Corpsman


Last PMS Performed December 30, 2005