Prior to the war there was not any competent members of a merchant ship’s crew to administer first aid if injuries or ailments occurred. As the war waged on and the casualties rose the Maritime Service needed to react. It was not until Dec. 7, 1942 the U.S. Maritime Service began to train the Hospital Corps in Sheepshead Bay training station. To qualify for the school a seaman would need an average IQ of 130 and two years of college. The courses would include Pharmacy, clinical laboratory, hygiene and sanitation, emergency treatment and first aid, and nursing. Men were trained in phlebotomy (give shots), treat compound fractures, administer blood plasma, and suture wounds. Of the first class of 331 students only 239 graduated on March 12, 1943. Quota for the school soon increased to 600 students.
On March 29, 1943 an official directive was given that the ship’s Purser would take on the duties of the Hospital Corpman. The Corpman would be referred to as a Pharmacist Mate. The Purser-Pharmacist Mate would not only be responsible for keeping up with the ship’s business paperwork, but now must take care of the ship’s crew in sick bay. The training started with a 12-week hospital course, then they entered a four-week training course in the Junior Assistant Purser school. The first class of Purser-Pharmacist Mate graduated on August 10, 1943 and by January 1, 1944 there were 600 Purser-Pharmacist Mates underway on merchant ships. A Purser-Pharmacist Mate serving less than six months underway were given the rank of Chief Petty Officer and those with more than six months underway received Ensign commissions.
A Purser-Pharmacist Mate Corpman was not a doctor when they graduated from the course. They were capable of treating wounds, administering first aid, treating everyday ailments, monitored the sanitation standards, assisted in preventing epidemics and the spread of diseases from port to port, and practiced the newest medical procedures and administering medicines to ailing crew members. A Purser-Pharmacist Mate Corpman was responsible only to the Captain and is the health, hygiene, and sanitation authority for his vessel. A corpsman was trained to act alone. He could only rely on his knowledge and experience to handle all situations that arise on the ship.