The path to earning the Submarine Medical Officer breast insignia is long and difficult, even if you set aside the many years spent in earning the M.D. or D.O. degree required to serve as a physician in the United States Navy.

For candidates seeking to become Undersea Medical Officers (UMOs), the journey begins in earnest at the Naval Undersea Medical Institute (NUMI) on Naval Submarine Base New London in Groton, Connecticut. The 22-week Undersea Medical Officer Candidate Course is broken into three phases, the first being a six-week introductory course that focuses heavily on physical training as preparation for the next phase of training at the Naval Diving and Salvage Training Center in Panama City, Florida.

Diving and diving medicine training lasts roughly nine weeks before the candidates return to Groton for the final segment of the course, which combines the salient technical aspects of the Submarine Officer’s Basic course with instruction in the delivery of a variety of types of medical care—psychiatric, dental, Special Warfare and Tropical medicine, to name a few—in an array of operational settings. Other areas of training include Radiation Health, Basic Life Support and Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support, and administrative functions.

After graduation from the NUMI training course, UMOs are given instructions on how to prepare for a submarine qualification exam, which must be completed during their first undersea medical deployment. At the same time, UMO hopefuls are required to submit a proposal for thesis, a technical paper, or some other type of project that explore an aspect of undersea medicine. If their proposed topic is accepted, they have to submit an original of the paper/project along with two copies to the Board for Qualification of Submarine Medical Officers (hereafter known as “the board”) at NUMI for final review and, hopefully, acceptance. (Note: the board can waive this if the candidate has already published a scientific paper or an article involving submarine or diving.)

Other steps include completing and submitting a submarine qualification card from NUMI, serving aboard a submarine for at least 30 days (these need not be consecutive, however), and, last but certainly not least, receiving the recommendation of the command officer (and the commanding officer of an operational unit to which the candidate is assigned, if applicable).

At this point, all that’s left is the final paperwork: sending NUMI a request for the “Qualified Submarine Medical Officer” designation. With approval of the senior member of the board, the candidate can finally don the Submarine Medical Officer breast insignia: a gold pin with the Medical Corps device featuring an acorn centerpiece and flanked by two heraldic dolphins.

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