Nurse vs. Corpsman vs. Medic

Last Updated/Verified: Jan 17, 2020

Each branch of service has a career track for non-licensed medical personnel called corpsman or medics, and the specialty training and roles can be as diverse as nursing specialties. Although the term corpsman and medic are used interchangeably across the branches, the specific training specialties make each role unique.

A medic can be trained to fight side-by-side with combat units or can receive focused training as a surgical technician or physical therapy assistant. For combat medics assigned to the special-forces areas such as Delta teams, they must receive training in a wide variety of medical scenarios such as dive medicine, dental, orthopaedics, trauma, and critical care medicine. Courses like the Special Operations Combat Medic (SOCM) are challenging and last 6 months. Once complete, medics assigned to special forces units must also attend a 5-month medical course to diagnose illness and injuries. These warrior-medics are also required to complete many of the training programs that are required of the special-forces members such as the Rangers.

Navy Hospital Corpsman are seaman that have specialized medic training such as diving, aviation, and clinical operations. Navy corpsman serve on ships, in naval hospitals, in outpatient clinics and attach to Marine Corps units to provide medical care. Navy corpsman who are attached to special forces such as a SEAL team are also required to be skilled in combat and other specialized skills in order to remain part of the unit. Corpsman can continue their training and education to become an Independent Duty Corpsman, similar to a physician assistant, where they can diagnose, treat, perform procedures, and write prescriptions for those in need.

The Air Force utilizes Air Force Combat Medics, also referred to as a Pararescue, to attach to special forces units. These medics, in addition to the SOCM training, attend 20-weeks of a Pararescue Recovery Specialist Course to learn methods on how to rescue personnel in any environment and situation. As with the other medics and corpsman, when attached to a special forces team, the medic must also be skilled in combat. As one can see, military medics and corpsman are enlisted personnel that are specifically trained in combat or clinical medicine and require no prerequisite training or education. Conversely, a military nurse is a registered nurse who has completed, at a minimum, a BSN and has passed the NCLEX-RN exam, as governed by the Board of Nursing requirements. During nursing school, students are educated in a myriad of medical skills and knowledge in order to provide care in a variety of settings. Once school is complete and the nurse is licensed by the state in which they reside, many nurses specialize in clinical areas such as pediatrics, labor and delivery, emergency services, etc. Another significant difference in the military environment is that nurses are ranked as officers whereas the corpsman and medic are enlisted military personnel. It is common for nurses and corpsman/medics to work on the same team to deliver care in numerous settings in the military.

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