Training a basic hospital corpsman to be a successful “Submarine Doc” takes a little time, a few good instructors, and a whole lot of work on the part of the student. Second Class Petty Officer Corpsmen with the drive and determination are eligible to apply for the 58-week course of instruction conducted at the Naval Undersea Medical Institute (NUMI) in Groton, Conn., a component of the Naval Operational Medicine Institute in Pensacola, Fla. The purpose of training IDC students is to equip them with the medical and administrative knowledge and skills required to administer all aspects of the medical mission aboard an operational submarine. This is perhaps the most difficult and demanding assignment in the Navy. There is not an instance during an IDC’s tour that he can escape the grasp of responsibility. Students attend Basic Enlisted Submarine School followed by training in radiation health, medical administration, gas free engineering / atmosphere control, clinical medicine, and clinical rotations. The historical attrition rate through the curriculum is approximately 40% due to the high standards required to ensure a graduate can function independently in a high stress environment. The effectiveness of these standards is validated by the outstanding performance and low attrition rate of NUMI graduates in the fleet.
NUMI’s roots go back to the 1940s during the early days of World War II, when Navy Physicians and Pharmacist Mates (now corpsman) were trained for duty in the submarine service through a partnership between the Naval Medical Research Laboratory and Naval Submarine School. With the birth of the nuclear fleet, the course for training submarine corpsman evolved from the Nuclear Submarine Medical Technician curriculum to the current Submarine Force Independent Duty Corpsman course of instruction. This curriculum began as very limited medical training coupled with Basic Enlisted Submarine School and has since matured into the intensive radiation health and medical training program currently in existence. NUMI graduates approximately twenty-five new IDCs per year. All report to operational submarines for their first tour of duty.
Corpsmen have served with distinction on submarines in every major war, conflict or patrol since World War I, and have distinguished themselves among fellow submariners. No longer are they just “the Doc” but are now increasingly qualifying and performing the duties of senior submarine watch stations such as Chief of the Watch (COW) and Diving Officer of the Watch (DOOW) in addition to their regular assignments. Several outstanding former submarine IDCs have even gone on to serve as Chief of the Boat (COB). The service of these men has been characterized by dedication and professionalism combined with true care and compassion for their crews. The autonomy, scope, and responsibility placed in the hands of a submarine IDC are virtually unparalleled in any other profession. In this community the title of “Doc” is not taken lightly by those who bear the title or those who bestow it. This title itself holds no true rank, authority, or civilian certification but is one of the most unique, challenging, and rewarding positions in the Navy today.
Senior Chief Petty Officer Boyce is the Senior Enlisted leader for the Independent Duty Corpsman program at the Naval Undersea Medical Institute in Groton, Conn.