The origins of the United States Navy's Hospital Corps can be traced back to an act of Congress in 1799, which provided:

"A convenient place shall be set apart for the sick and hurt men, to which they are to be removed, and some of the crew shall be appointed to attend them"

1814 - 1842 Loblolly Boy

It was the duty of the Loblolly Boy to go fore and aft the gun and berth decks ringing a small bell to give notice to "those slightly indisposed and with ulcers" to attend the surgeon at the mainmast. Both from old Navy Regulations and accounts of shipboard life, the Loblolly Boy's duties included providing the cockpit with water, containers for amputated limbs, and braziers of charcoal for heating tar with which to stop hemorrhage. He also provided buckets of sand to catch the blood from amputations and wounds, and to pour over the blood on the decks so that the surgeon would not slip while working.

1842-1863 Surgeon's Steward

The Surgeon's Steward replaced the Loblolly Boy. The pay of the Surgeon's Steward was $18.00 per month and one ration.

"A Surgeon's Steward is allowed at all hospitals and Navy yards and on board every vessel having a Medical Officer. As it is important that a respectable class of persons should be employed in this capacity, surgeons will endeavor to select such as have some knowledge of pharmacy and ordinary accounts and are of industrious and temperate habits."

Instructions for Medical Officers, U. S. Navy, 1857.

This was the first time that specially qualified personnel were sought to serve in the this position.

"Surgeon's Stewards to rank next after Master-at-Arms (who was the Leading Petty Officer of the Vessel), and Surgeon's Stewards are never to be discharged without the consent of the officer appointing them or their successor, except by sentence of a court-martial.

U. S. Navy Regulations, 1865.

1866-1873 Apothecary

"The designation of persons serving as Surgeon's Stewards is changed to that of Apothecary, and they will be appointed for duty in the Medical Department of the Navy, ashore and afloat, in the same manner as Surgeon's Stewards have theretofore been appointed. A candidate for examination and first enlistment as apothecary must be a graduate of some recognized college of pharmacy and must be between 21 and 28 years of age.

U. S. Navy Regulations, 1896.

1873-1898 Bayman

"The Surgeon's division shall consist of all junior Medical Officers of the ship, the apothecary, and the bayman. Bayman shall be given a course of instruction on board the receiving ship or at a Naval Hospital before drafted for service on a sea going ship. Bayman are personal attendants on the sick.

U. S. Navy Regulations, 1893.


The Hospital Corps came into existence as a unit of the Medical Department under the provisions of an act of Congress approved June 17, 1898. This act provided for appointment to the warrant rank of pharmacist and established the following ratings:

  • Hospital Steward (Chief Petty Officer)
  • Hospital Apprentice First Class (Third Class Petty Officer)
  • Hospital Apprentice

After initial establishment, the rank and structure of the Hospital Corp continued to evolve over the years.  In 1948, the traditional rating insignia was changed from a Red Cross to a Caduceus and the following ranks and ratings were established.

Hospitalman Recruit (E-1)
Hospitalman Apprentice (E-2)
Hospitalman (E-3)
Hospital Corpsman Third Class (E-4)
Hospital Corpsman Second Class (E-5)
Hospital Corpsman First Class (E-6)
Chief Hospital Corpsman (E-7)
Senior Chief Hospital Corpsman (E-8)
Master Chief Hospital Corpsman (E-9)

It is important to note that the Hospital Corps is not only the only enlisted Corps, but is also the most highly decorated.  Over the course of its history, Hospital Corpsmen have been awarded 21 Medals of Honor, 174 Navy Crosses, 31 Distinguished Service Crosses, 943 Silver Star Medals, and 1,554 Bronze Star Medals.

"Wherever you find the Navy, wherever you find the Marine Corps, there you will find the Navy Hospital Corpsman. In times of peace, he or she toils increasingly, day and night, providing quality care to numerous beneficiaries. In times of war, he is on the beaches with the Marines, employed in amphibious operations, in transportation of wounded by air, on the battlefield, and on all types of ships, submarines, aircraft carriers, and landing craft. In short, wherever medical services may be required, the hospital corpsman is there, not only willing but prepared to serve his country and his fellow man above and beyond the call of duty. "