Hospital corpsmen work in a wide variety of capacities and locations, including shore establishments such as naval hospitals and clinics, aboard ships, and as the primary medical caregivers for sailors while underway. Hospital corpsmen are frequently the only medical care-giver available in many fleet or Marine units on extended deployment. In addition, hospital corpsmen perform duties as assistants in the prevention and treatment of disease and injury and assist health care professionals in providing medical care to sailors and their families.
They may function as clinical or specialty technicians, medical administrative personnel and health care providers at medical treatment facilities. They also serve as battlefield corpsmen with the Marine Corps, rendering emergency medical treatment to include initial treatment in a combat environment. Qualified hospital corpsmen may be assigned the responsibility of independent duty aboard ships and submarines; Fleet Marine Force, SEAL and Seabee units, and at isolated duty stations where no medical officer is available.
Hospital corpsmen were previously trained at Naval Hospital Corps School, Great Lakes, Illinois, and the U.S. Naval Hospital Corps School San Diego, California, until the 2011 Base Realignment and Closure Bill caused Hospital Corps School to be relocated to the Medical Education and Training Campus (METC) at Joint Base San Antonio, Texas. Naval Hospital Corps School was also located at NRMC Balboa in San Diego, California.
During the Vietnam War, many of the then 16-week Naval Hospital Corps school graduates went directly to 8404 Field Medical Service School (FMSS) at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, or Camp Pendleton, California, for 4 weeks of field training, before deployment to a Marine Corps unit in South Vietnam.
The colloquial form of address for a hospital corpsman is "Doc". In the United States Marine Corps, this term is generally used as a sign of respect.