The United States Navy Medical Service Corps was officially established on August 4, 1947 with the passage of the Army-Navy Medical Services Corps Act, but its genesis in point of fact took place in World War II, when over 1,400 officers were temporarily appointed to the Hospital Corps, along with close to 850 optometrists, pharmacists, and other professionals from a variety of medical specialties.

That temporary status became permanent with the passage of the Army-Navy Medical Service Corps Act of 1947, which established a new officer corps designed to relieve physicians of administrative and bureaucratic responsibilities and deliver enhanced health care in specialized fields such as optometry, podiatry, physical therapy, and more. The four original sections of the Corps—Supply and Administration, Optometry, Pharmacy and Medical Allied Sciences—were augmented in 1952 with the addition of the Women’s Specialist department (it was later redesignated the Medical Specialist Section so that male officers could be appointed to it).

Like their counterparts in the Nurse Corps and Medical Corps, the first step for Medical Service Corps officers seeking their Surface Warfare qualification is completing the Surface Warfare Medical Department Officer Indoctrination Course (or an equivalent training program in operational medicine that’s applicable to the billet). Held at the Surface Warfare Medical Institute at Naval Submarine Base Point Loma, the course introduces officers to the ins and outs of fleet service for medical personnel, with a special emphasis on what they can expect in terms of medical assets on different types of surface vessels and an introduction to the successful implementation of preventive and occupational health programs.

The most time-consuming challenge awaiting Medical Service Corps officers striving for the Surface Warfare qualification is completing the SWOSDOC, or Surface Warfare Officer Division Officer Course At-Sea Curriculum. Though not nearly as extensive as the Surface Warfare qualification training that Unrestricted Line Officers must undergo, in part because regulations state explicitly that Medical Department officers should stand watches outside Medical, the course does include carrying out assignments Officer of the Deck (inport) and Combat Information Center Watch Officer. Outside the SWOSDOC, candidates must also complete basic damage control and shipboard fire-fighting courses.

The breast insignia for the Staff Officers who've earned the highly coveted Surface Warfare designation features a spread oak leaf on an angled twig--the emblem of the Medical Service Corps--surcharged over two crossed swords, all placed atop  the image of gently breaking ocean waves.

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