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|First holder William Maxwell Wood|
The Surgeon General of the United States Navy is the most senior commissioned officer of the Medical Corps of the United States Navy. The Surgeon General of the Navy is a member of the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations.
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 The legislation provided for five Navy bureaus United States Navy bureau system to replace the outdated Board of Navy Commissioners—Yards and Docks; Construction, Equipment, and Repair; Provisions and Clothing; Ordnance and Hydrography; and Medicine and Surgery.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 of the United States.
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:
Overseeing all of these duties, and directing the medical department, was the Chief of BUMED, William P. C. Barton. Barton served at this post until 1844. He was followed by Thomas Harris, William Whelan, Phineas Horwitz, and William Maxwell Wood. Since the days of 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
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 Maxwell Wood (1809–1880), a man entering his 42nd year of a naval service as unusual and varied as could be. 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 November 2011, VADM Matthew L. Nathan, took office becoming the 37th Surgeon General of the United States Navy, and 41st Chief of the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery.