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This article is about the senior physician in the U.S. Navy. For the head of the U.S. Public Health Service, see Surgeon General of the United States. For other uses, see Surgeon General (disambiguation).

The Surgeon General of the United States Navy is the senior-most medical corps officer in the United States Navy.


Establishment of the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery

On 31 August 1842, the United States Congress passed a Navy appropriation bill that was a blueprint for efficiency. The legislation provided for five Navy bureaus[1] to replace the outdated Board of Navy Commissioners—Yards and Docks; Construction, Equipment, and Repair; Provisions and Clothing; Ordnance and Hydrography; and Medicine and Surgery. Heading each of the bureaus was a “Chief” to be appointed by the President.

The Bureau of Medicine and Surgery (BUMED) became the central administrative headquarters for the Navy Medical Department, and those names became interchangeable. The General Order of 26 November 1842, which defined the duties of the new bureaus, charged BUMED with:

  • All medicines and medical stores of every description, used in the treatment of the sick, the diseased and the wounded;
  • All boxes, vials, and other vessels containing the same;
  • All clothing, beds, and bedding for the sick;
  • All surgical instruments of every kind;
  • The management of hospitals, so far as the patients therein are concerned;
  • All appliances of every sort, used in surgical and medical practice;
  • All contracts, accounts, and returns, relating to these and such other subjects as shall hereafter be assigned to this bureau.

Overseeing all of these duties, and directing the medical department, was the Chief of BUMED, Dr. William P.C. Barton. Dr. Barton served at this post until 1844. He was followed by Thomas Harris, William Whelan, Phineas Horwitz, and William M. Wood. Since the days of Dr. Barton’s directorship the most senior ranking physician in the Navy Medical Department has held the title of Chief of the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery.

Creation of the title "Surgeon General of the Navy"

On 3 March 1871, Congress passed legislation granting medical and other staff officers of the Navy “relative rank” with grades “equal to but not identical with the grades of the line.” This Naval Appropriations Act went further than any previous Congressional action in transforming and enhancing the Navy Medical Department. The Chief of the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery now had the additional title “Surgeon General,” with the relative rank of Commodore.” At the helm of this “revitalized” organization stood the first Surgeon General, William M. Wood (1809-1880), a man entering his 42nd year of a naval service as unusual and varied as could be. Dr. Wood had served aboard USS Poinsett, one of the first steam vessels of the Navy, and designated flagship during the “expedition for the suppression of Indian hostilities on the coast of Florida” (a.k.a. the Seminole Wars). Wood served shore duty at Sackets Harbor, New York, Baltimore, Maryland, had duty as Fleet Surgeon of the Pacific Fleet, and served under Commodore John D. Sloat in California during the Mexican-American War. However fitting he may have been as the first Navy Surgeon General, he served less than two years.

In August 2007, over 126 years after William M. Wood first received the title of Surgeon General, VADM Adam M. Robinson, Jr., MC, USN, took office becoming the 36th Surgeon General of the U.S. Navy, and 40th Chief of the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery.

Chiefs of BUMED and Surgeons General of the Navy

Chief of BUMED Dates of Tenure
William P.C. Barton 1842-1844
Thomas Harris 1844-1853
William Whelan 1853-1865
Phineas J. Horwitz 1865-1869
William M. Wood 1869-1871
Surgeon General Date(s) of Tenure
William M. Wood 1869-1871
Jonathan M. Foltz 1871-1872
James C. Palmer 1872-1873
Joseph Beale 1873-1877
William Grier 1877-1878
J. Winthrop Taylor 1878-1879
Phillip S. Wales 1878-1884
Francis M. Gunnell 1884-1888
J. Mills Browne 1888-1894
James Rufus Tryon 1894-1897
Newton L. Bates 1897
William J. Van Reypen 1897-1902
Presley M. Rixey 1902-1910
Charles F. Stokes 1910-1914
William C. Braisted 1914-1920
Edward R. Stitt 1920-1928
Charles E. Riggs 1928-1933
Percival S. Rossiter 1933-1938
Ross T. McIntire 1938-1946
Clifford A. Swanson 1946-1951
H. Lamont Pugh 1951-1955
Bartholomew W. Hogan, M.D. 1955-1961
Edward C. Kenney 1961-1965
Robert B. Brown 1965-1969
George M. Davis 1969-1973
Donald L. Custis 1973-1976
Willard P. Arentzen 1976-1980
J. William Cox 1980-1983
Lewis H. Seaton 1983-1987
James A. Zimble 1987-1991
Donald F. Hagen 1991-1995
Harold M. Koenig 1995-1998
Richard A. Nelson 1998-2001
Michael L. Cowan 2001-2004
Donald C. Arthur 2004-2007
Adam M. Robinson, Jr. 2007-Present

See also



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