The United States Air Force Medical Service (AFMS) consists of the five distinct medical corps of the Air Force and enlisted medical technicians. The AFMS was created in 1949 after the newly independent Air Force's first Surgeon General, Maj. General Malcolm C. Grow (1887–1960), convinced the United States Army and President Harry S. Truman that the Air Force needed its own medical service.
In the summer of 1949, Air Force General Order No. 35 established a medical service with the following officer personnel components: Medical Corps, Dental Corps, Veterinary Corps, Medical Service Corps, Air Force Nurse Corps, and Women's Medical Specialist Corps.
The AFMS is led by The Surgeon General of the Air Force, who holds the rank of lieutenant general. The AFMS is found in all three components of the Air Force, including the Active Air Force, the U.S. Air Force Reserve, and the Air National Guard. Headquartered at The Air Staff, Defense Health Headquarters, Falls Church, VA., AFMS senior leaders can be found in all of the Major Commands and in the Pentagon.
Established in 1965 from the defunct Women's Medical Specialist Corps and components of the Medical Service Corps, the Biomedical Sciences Corps (BSC) consists entirely of commissioned officers. This is the most diversified of the Medical Corps, consisting of members in Physical Therapy, Optometry, Podiatry, Physician Assistant, Audiology/Speech pathology, Psychology, Social Worker, Occupational Therapy, Aerospace physiology, Biomedical Scientists, Clinical Dietitian, Bioenvironmental Engineering, Public Health Officers, Entomology, Pharmacy, Medical lab Officers, and Health Physicists. The Chief of the Biomedical Sciences Corps is a brigadier general.
Dental laboratory technicians receive an extensive specialized extended training at the US Air Force School Of Health Care Science. Graduates continue upgraded technical training throughout their career. Advanced courses include the production and technical understanding of complex dental and maxillofacial prosthetics. The Dental Corps consists of commissioned officers holding the Doctor of Dental Surgery degree or Doctor of Dental Medicine degree or a further, post-graduate degree. The chief of the Dental Corps is a major general. The enlisted members of the USAF are assistants, technicians and prophylaxis technicians that train under licensed hygienists. The enlisted members are to support commissioned officers in different areas of the dental clinic. The enlisted members usually receive special training at certain bases that may have periodontist, oral surgeon, endodontist, orthodontist. After the first few years rotating in the clinic as an enlisted member, they can either become a prophylaxis technician which is a hygienist in the Air Force. Enlisted members also have the choices to work in other areas, such as DIPC, where instruments are cleaned, or front desk.
The Medical Corps consists entirely of commissioned Air Force physicians, including holders of the Doctor of Medicine (MD) degree and the Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) degree. A member of the Medical Corps can also become a Flight Surgeon. The Chief of the Medical Corps is a brigadier general.
Physicians can enter service into the Air Force through several different paths. Cadets at the US Air Force Academy can compete for selection to medical school at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USUHS) or at any CONUS medical school through HPSP. An academy graduate who attends USUHS will incur a twelve-year (seven for USUHS and five for the Academy) service commitment not counting any training such as residency and fellowship; an academy graduate who attends a civilian medical school will incur a nine-year service commitment not counting any training such as residency and fellowship. Civilian undergraduates can also apply to USUHS, they incur a seven-year service commitment. USUHS students are commissioned officers at the rank of Second Lieutenant (O-1) and are paid as full-time active duty members. All of their school and expenses are paid by the US Air Force. USUHS graduates must complete residency training in a military residency program. Civilian medical school students can apply for the Health Professions Scholarship Program (HPSP). HPSP medical students have their medical school tuition paid by the US Air Force and receive a monthly stipend for living expenses, but they are not on active duty. These graduates can usually attend a civilian or military residency training program and incur a three or four-year service commitment (one year commitment per year of scholarship assistance). Civilian resident physicians can enter Air Force service through the Financial Assistance Program (FAP). FAP physicians receive payment while in residency, but do not receive funds to pay for medical school. Unlike all other programs in the Air Force, they incur a service commitment of based on their length in the program, plus one year (e.g. two years in the program incurs a three-year service commitment). All graduates of residency training enter active duty at the rank of Captain (O-3). Most of the US Air Force Academy graduates pursue a career as an Air Force physician, while the vast majority of HPSP graduates leave the service as soon as their commitment is completed.
The Air Force also recruits fully trained and practicing physicians to enter active duty. Their rank at entry is based on their experience.
The Medical Service Corps (MSC) consists entirely of commissioned officers. Members are required to hold a bachelor's or master's degree in Healthcare, Management, Economics, Finance, Operations Research, Business Administration or similar degree before receiving a commission, and must complete a four-week orientation course at Maxwell AFB, AL, and then a five-week military Health Systems Administration (HSA) course at Fort Sam Houston, San Antonio, TX. MSCs serve as hospital administrators, resource management officers, directors of information systems/technology, managed care and patient administrators, group practice managers, medical logisticians, and medical readiness officers. MSC officers are also expected to become Board certified by one of several national healthcare administration organizations. This is usually done while the officer is in the rank of captain or Major. The Chief of the Medical Service Corps is Brigadier General Susan Pietrykowski.
The Nurse Corps consists entirely of commissioned officers. New members of the Air Force Nurse Corps are required to hold at minimum a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree prior to receiving a commission. Members of the Air Force Nurse Corps work in all aspects of Air Force Medicine and can serve as Flight Nurse in aeromedical evacuation missions, nurse practitioner, and nurse anesthetist. The first Chief of the Air Force Nurse Corps was Colonel Verena Marie Zeller (1949–56). The first two-star general Chief of the Air Force Nurse Corps was Major General Barbara Brannon; she was replaced in 2005 by Maj Gen Melissa Rank. In 2008, it was announced that Colonel Kimberly Siniscalchi would be promoted to the rank of major general and serve as the Chief of the AF Nurse Corps, thereby bypassing the rank of brigadier general (1-star).
Air Force Enlisted Medical personnel perform in over twenty different medical fields including medical administration, mental health, dental care, optometry, physical therapy, aeromedical evacuation, medical logistics, laboratory sciences, surgical care, emergency care, radiology, pharmacy, etc. but the generic medic in the Air Force, equivalent to a medic in the Army or a corpsman in the Navy, is known as an Aerospace Medical Service Specialist. Enlisted medics are led by a Chief Master Sergeant.