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AMEDD Corps History > Medical Specialist > Publication

Although the Army Medical Specialist Corps was only established by the Congress a scant twenty years ago as the Women's Medical Specialist Corps and, as such, is the newest of the six corps of the Army Medical Service, I am delighted to note that the editors and authors have wisely given proper perspective to the dimensions of the achievements of the corps by incorporating in this historical account the period from 1917 to 1961.

By the inclusion of material concerning the growth of this important adjunct to the Army Medical Service team, one learns of the 1,500 pioneer women who served as dietitians, physical therapists, and occupational therapists in Army hospitals, both at home and abroad during World War I and of those who continued to serve, as civilian employees, until World War II.

It is particularly interesting to me, as I am sure it will be to others, to contrast the position of the members of the Army Medical Specialist Corps today, with their well-deserved recognition, compatible promotion policy, long-range educational and training program, and the like, with the poorly defined and frequently misunderstood and frustrating experiences of the World War I era and for many years thereafter.

The fact that the Army Nurse Corps had been established in 1901 did not, it is surprising to note, insure general acceptance of other women specialists in the Army and for several decades the laborious struggle for recognition and status continued. It was achieved, of course, in 1947, and in retrospect, one might say it was long overdue.

The period between the two World Wars was an arduous one for the dietitians, physical therapists, and occupational therapists--as civilian employees they were subjected to reduction actions, they had no civil service classification until just before World War II, housing was rarely available, and opportunities for specialized or graduate training were virtually nonexistent.

The World War II period is described in great detail in this volume, and is in itself a fascinating Army Medical Service historical account. During World War II, for example, 1,643 dietitians and over 1,600 physical therapists served worldwide in a commissioned status with the Army Medical Department. The commissioning of these two professions had been authorized in 1942; however, for those dietitians and physical therapists interned by the Japanese in Manila, their first knowledge of having achieved commissioned status did not come until the day of their liberation. The War Department had wisely kept this circumstance as top secret information to avoid compromise of the civilian category of these women.

Occupational therapists were not commissioned at any time during World War II, nor were they authorized oversea assignments. The rationale, as this history so clearly details, was that there would be

little need for treatment of war-injured soldiers since soldiers requiring such treatment would be transferred to Veterans' Administration hospitals. Needless to say, this proved fallacious reasoning as over 900 occupational therapists were employed in U.S. Army hospitals in the Zone of Interior during World War II and many hundreds could have been profitably employed in oversea areas had the authorization existed. I personally have the most acute recollection of such a need in the hospital center I commanded and recall, even at this late date, the "robbing Peter to pay Paul" machinations which were required in order to implement our occupational therapy program.

This history of these three professions is replete with the problem of obtaining and retaining sufficient personnel. This, of course, parallels the history of the Army Nurse Corps and is not incompatible with known nationwide shortages of such professional specialists. Great strides, however, as a reading of this history indicates, have been made through astute career management which has afforded members of the corps opportunities of specialized and graduate training. It is a truism that professional growth is achieved through continuing education and these three professions have placed due emphasis upon one of the major objectives of my office--education and training of all personnel.

This volume is the result of the dedicated efforts of its 17 authors, all of whom, except for the early days of World War I, had actual experience in the period about which they have written.

I am especially appreciative of these efforts and of the untiring effort of Col. Emma E. Vogel, WMSC, USA (Ret.), the first Chief of the Women's Medical Specialist Corps, who during the several years that this volume has been in preparation has unceasingly rendered assistance and guidance to the authors and the editors in addition to fulfilling her own writing responsibilities.

I congratulate all members of the Army Medical Specialist Corps for their splendid record as an integral part of a young and progressive corps and I add a special word of appreciation for those who have done so much to prepare this splendid historical account.

LEONARD D. HEATON,
Lieutenant General,
The Surgeon General.