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What’s in a Name?: The “Chiefs” and “Directors” of Navy Medicine

18 January 2022


FALLS CHURCH, Va. - Chiefs and Directors are an essential part of Navy Medicine and have long represented the upper tiers of corps leadership. By why do some staff corps have a Director and others a Chief? And if there is a distinction between these titles, why are they often collectively referred to as “Corps Chiefs”? The following is short history of these terms and a reference guide for usage.

The Chiefs of Navy Medicine:

--Chief –Middle English from French “chef” based on Latin meaning “head.”--

In the U.S. Navy a “Chief” is common parlance for “chief petty officer.” But over 50 years before the advent of the chief petty officer rating a “Navy Chief” referred to the head of one of five bureaus established by Congress to administer the “technical and material matters” of the U.S. Navy. Among these five original bureaus was the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery (BUMED) founded on August 31, 1842. In September 1842, Surgeon William Paul Crillon Barton was appointed by the first “Chief of BUMED” by President John Tyler. Since then, all of Dr. Barton’s successors as head of BUMED have held the title of Chief.

The Naval Appropriations Act of March 3, 1871 created the additional title of “Surgeon General of the U.S. Navy” for the Chief of BUMED. With the exception of a period when BUMED was deactivated (October 1, 1982 to September 30, 1989), all Surgeons General have held the secondary title of Chief of BUMED; and all Deputy Surgeons General have also been known as Deputy Chiefs of BUMED.

The Act of 1871 also formalized the Medical Corps (i.e., the Navy’s physician corps) as an official officer staff corps. From 1871 to 1989, the Surgeon General/ Chief of BUMED had the collateral duty as the head of the Medical Corps (known as Chief of the Medical Corps). In 1989, Vice Adm. James Zimble, Navy Surgeon General, established a separate Medical Corps office and selected physician Rear Adm. Robert Higgins as the new Chief. Dr. Higgins was the first officer to hold the title of Chief of the Medical Corps exclusively. Since August 1989, the role of Medical Corps Chief has remained separate, however, several leaders serving in position were later appointed Surgeon General/Chief of BUMED among them: Vice Adms. Harold Koenig, Donald Arthur, Adam Robinson and Matthew Nathan.

Today, the Dental Corps and Chaplain Corps are the only other Navy staff corps to be led by a “Chief.” This was not always the case though. When the Dental Corps was established on August 22, 1912 it still fell under the sphere of the Medical Corps. A decade later, BUMED established a separate Dental Corps Division that was led by a Chief who was tasked with overseeing “all technical activities pertaining to the Dental Service, including personnel, material, and inspections.” On February 8, 1943, by authority of Congress, the Dental Division was reorganized, and granted the Chief greater authority over all of naval dentistry. Two years later, the Dental Corps Chief was granted flag rank.

For a time, the title Chief was used by corps leadership in both the Navy Nurse Corps and the Medial Service Corps.

Of the first 20 members of the Nurse Corps (aka, “The Sacred Twenty), two were granted the title of “Chief Nurse.” On October 23, 1908, Martha Pringle and Victoria White were selected as the Navy’s first Chief Nurses (and in essence, the Navy’s first Chief Nursing Officers or CNOs). Their responsibilities included conferring with hospital COs and XOs on matters relating to nursing duties, ensuring proper conduct for the nurses, compliance to instructions, discipline, and oversite of nurses’ quarters. As the Nurse Corps grew over the ensuing years additional Chief Nurses were selected and placed in charge of nurses at naval hospitals. Before the advent of commissioned rank in the Nurse Corps, the title Chief denoted seniority and leadership in the Nurse Corps.

From 1954 to 1982, the head of the Medical Service Corps (MSC) was not a “Director” as it is today, but a Chief. The title “Chief of the Medical Service Corps” was established by Act of Congress of August 23, 1954 (Public Law 83-618). Capt. Willard Calkins, a 35-year veteran of the Navy and a former Hospital Corpsman, was selected by the Navy Surgeon General as the MSC’s first Chief. Before the advent of flag rank in the Medical Service Corps and the reorganization of the Medical Service Corps Division, the position of MSC Chief was held by a senior captain (0-6).

To most of us in Navy Medicine, a Chief is almost always synonymous with an E-7 (Chief Petty Officer). However, when the Hospital Corps was established on June 17th, 1898, it offered its enlisted personnel a mere three rates—Hospital Apprentice, Hospital Apprentice First Class and Hospital Steward—and no enlisted chiefs to be found. And though the rate of Chief Petty Officer was first established in April 1893, it did not exist among enlisted Corpsmen until 1916 when the Hospital Corps was reorganized. On December 1, 1916, some 360+ Hospital Stewards transitioned to the new rate of Chief Pharmacists Mate and in turn became Navy Medicine’s first enlisted Chiefs.

Leading the Hospital Corps is the dual-hatted Force Master Chief Petty Officer of BUMED/Director of the Hospital Corps. The Force Master Chief was one of 23 senior enlisted positions established by Adm. Elmo Zumwalt in July 1971. Originally known as the Master Chief Petty Officer of BUMED, the Force Master Chief (also commonly known as the “Force”) serves as the voice of some 26,000+ active and reserve Hospital Corpsmen in the Navy on matters relating to the welfare, health, job satisfaction, retention, morale, utilization, and training.

The Directors of Navy Medicine:

--Director – Late Middle English from Anglo-Norman French “directour” meaning “to guide.”--

The Naval Appropriations Act of 1871 can also be credited for introducing the title of “Director,” or specifically “Medical Director,” into Navy Medicine lexicon. The act reorganized the rank structure of the newly formalized Medical Corps. Outside of Surgeon General/Chief of BUMED who originally held the rank of Commodore (equivalent to 1-star), Medical Directors were Navy Medicine’s most senior officers. The title, which continued to be used into the twentieth century, was relative to a senior captain (0-6).

The title Director was first used by a head of a Navy staff corps in 1947. On April 16, 1947, the Army-Navy Nurse Act recognized the Nurse Corps as an official staff corps and established the title of Director of the Nurse Corps for the Superintendent (i.e., head of Navy nurses from 1908 to 1947). On May 13, 1947—in a ceremony attended by Fleet Surgeon Chester Nimitz and Rear Adm. Clifford Swanson, Navy Surgeon General—Capt. Nellie Dewitt was appointed the first Director of the Nurse Corps.

The Nurse Corps Director position was held by a senior captain (0-6) until 1972 when Capt. Alene Duerk was promoted to flag rank. Duerk holds the distinction as the first nurse and first woman promoted to flag rank and set rank precedent for all leaders who followed her as Nurse Corps Director.

A decade after the Nurse Corps got their first flag officer, the first Medical Service Corps officer obtained flag rank. In July 1982, Capt. Lewis “Red” Angelo, MSC, USN, was promoted to Commodore (1-star). The Chief of the Medical Service Corps became a directorship in 1982 and Angelo was the first to hold the title “Director of the Medical Service Corps.”

The head of the Hospital Corps wears the title of Force Master Chief of BUMED, but when they are overseeing issues related to education and training and manpower they are serving the role of “Director of the Hospital Corps.” This title was first used by Master Chief Stephen Brown beginning in 1979. It became a permanent title and responsibility of the leader of the Hospital Corps beginning in 1994 (with HMCM (SS) Mike Stewart).

The title of Director is also used by Navy Medicine’s most senior civilian leaders.

In 2015, BUMED established the Executive Director (ED) position to “increase collaboration across Navy medical functions, facilitate HQ communication and ensure a continuity of command leadership.” Since July 2015, Dr. Michael Malanoski has served Navy Medicine’s “ED.”

Dr. Andrew Jones reported to BUMED in May 2015 as the “Director of the Total Force” directorate. During his time at BUMED, Dr. Jones spearheaded the establishment of the Civilian Corps to mentor and help foster leadership opportunities for Navy Medicine’s 11,400+ civilians. On April 30, 2017, BUMED formally established the Navy Medicine Civilian Corps with Dr. Andrew Jones as its first Director. In December 2021, Mr. Mark Boman, Chief of Staff, Naval Medical Forces Pacific, became the third Director of Navy Medicine’s Civilian Corps.

In summary, “Chief” and “Director” are titles that have been—and continue to be—used for corps leadership positions in Navy Medicine. There is no Chief of the Civilian Corps, Nurse Corps or Medical Service Corps and no Director of the Dental Corps and Medical Corps. The Hospital Corps is led by a Force Master Chief who also serves as a Director. There remains a delineation between who uses these titles and it is incorrect to call the Medical Corps Chief the “Director” of their corps. That said, owing to the meaning of “Chief” as a head of something, it is not necessarily wrong to generally refer to the collective corps generally as the “Corps Chiefs.”


Annual Report of the Surgeon General, U.S. Navy to the Secretary of the Navy for Fiscal Year 1916. Washington, DC: GPO, 1916.

Annual Report of the Surgeon General, U.S. Navy to the Secretary of the Navy for Fiscal Year 1916. Washington, DC: GPO, 1916.

BUMED Command Operations Report Calendar Year (CY) 2015.

"Chief." 2022. (14 January 2022).

"Director." 2022. (14 January 2022).

Jones, Andrew to A.B. Sobocinski (Email). “RE: Distinctions between Chiefs and Directors,” January 10, 2022.

Sobocinski, A.B. The Force at 50: A Retrospective of the Force Master Chief of Navy Medicine. DVIDS, July 19, 2021. Retrieved from:

Sterner, Doris. In and Out of Harm’s Way: A History of the Navy Nurse Corps. Seattle, WA: Peanut Butter Publishing, 1997.

Taylor, R.W. History of Naval Dentistry. Journal of the American College of Dentists, September 1959.


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