A brief history of the U.S. Navy Independent Duty Corpsman

By Matt Lyman, U.S. Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery Public Affairs

Advanced Training 09-8050-1
IDC Training at the Advanced Hospital Corps School, Portsmouth, VA
Hospital Corpsmen 2nd Class June Stokes and David Senf, both students in their 14th week of training to become Independent Duty
Technicians, get some practical experience in suture technique. Both
Miss Stokes and Senf came to the School of Health Sciences after general
experience in medical billets, 1977.

Modern U.S. Navy corpsmen have been around for the last 116 years and have served with and supported every rate in any climate, around the world. That commitment to service and support was exemplified in 1944 when the Navy determined there was a need to have medical personnel in some locations where a medical officer or medical facility was not readily available. Those medical personnel would come to be known as Independent Duty Corpsmen (IDC).  IDCs are found at the highest altitudes, prepping gear to conduct a High Altitude – Low Opening (H.A.L.O.) jump with special operations groups, or down at the deepest depths working to ensure the safety and health of submariners.
“An IDC is the jack of all trades and master of none. The job has long hours, sleepless nights, and an expectation to always have the answer. Being an IDC is truly a lifestyle,” Chief Hospital Corpsman Noel A. Martinez, IDC program manager, Naval Hospital Jacksonville.
Hospital corpsmen were first trained at the Hospital Corps School in Portsmouth, Virginia in 1944. The course was called the “intermediate course,” and the curriculum was comprised of 245 hours of didactic instruction and 235 hours of practical application exercises. The classes revolved around responsibilities and limitations of independent duty, advanced minor surgery and first aid, administration and shipboard hygiene.
In addition to the “intermediate course”, the Navy established a special course for IDCs assigned to submarines in Groton, Connecticut and a surface warfare course located in San Diego, California. IDCs assigned to submarines are required to complete portions of the basic enlisted submarine school, prior to getting underway.
In 1949, the intermediate course was discontinued and a 20-week advanced course was established in San Diego that became the primary student pipeline for IDCs. A year later the curriculum was expanded to its current length of 50 weeks for Surface/Dive IDC course, 365 days (54) weeks for Sub IDC and 96 days (14 weeks) for the Recon IDC course. Today, basic corpsmen are trained at Ft. Sam Houston, Texas and the various IDC courses are found in Connecticut and California.
Originally, IDCs were defined as corpsmen serving aboard surface ships or submarines who worked independently of a medical officer as the sole medical representative. In the 1980s, the scope of IDCs expanded to include hospital corpsmen in all operational roles. Corpsmen became known as IDCs if they graduated from the advanced course or had equivalent training and were certified to perform clinical duties independent of medical officers. Throughout the years, the role of the IDC has grown in scope, especially in the field of preventive medicine and mental health.
“We see our crews when they are feeling their best and feeling their worst. We are healers, counselors, and shipmates. We have the ear of our commanding officers and the pulse of the crew,” Chief Hospital Corpsman Jeremy L. Simon, USS Leyte Gulf (CG) senior medical department representative.
Currently serving corpsmen having attained the rank of hospital corpsman 2nd Class and meeting all other criteria to determine qualifications can submit for consideration for selection as a Surface Force Independent Duty Corpsman. For more information visit: http://www.med.navy.mil/sites/nmotc/swmi/Pages/IDCPrerequisites.aspx.
These prerequisites apply to all IDCs, though some IDCs will have to pass various indoctrination periods or schooling for more specific IDC billets. For example, submarine service requires the completion of the Basic Enlisted Submarine School (BESS). Additionally, special operations IDCs are required to complete certain schools to obtain skills necessary to serve with the special operations community.
U.S. Navy Medicine is a global health care network of 63,000 Navy medical personnel around the world who provide high quality health care to more than one million eligible beneficiaries. Navy Medicine personnel deploy with Sailors and Marines worldwide, providing critical mission support aboard ship, in the air, under the sea and on the battlefield.