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Naval Medical Center Portsmouth (NMCP) celebrated the Medical Corps’ 145th birthday with a cake-cutting ceremony, March 3.

Capt. Lawrence Kuhn, chair of the Medical Executive Committee at NMCP, served as the master of ceremonies, reading the birthday message from 38th Surgeon General of the Navy Vice Adm. C. Forrest Faison, III, to those assembled.

“As we look to the future, the Medical Corps is paving the way in biomedical research, medical education and training, and patient care,” Kuhn read. “With unprecedented board certification rates, our Navy physicians remain ready and capable to care for those entrusted to our care. They serve, often at great sacrifice, to care for those entrusted to us when they need us most.”

Following the reading, the most junior and senior members of the Medical Corps at NMCP, Capt. Timothy McCullough from NMCP’s General Surgery Department, and Ensign James Breuer, a medical student at Uniformed Services University for Health Services, cut the ceremonial cake.

While reflecting on the history behind the birthday celebration, a handful of NMCP’s Medical Corps personnel shared some of their insights as to why they decided to join their ranks. Lt. Cmdr. Melissa Buryk, a pediatric endocrinologist at NMCP, works with children with diabetes and other hormone conditions that may affect growth and puberty.

“I chose pediatric endocrinology because I really like working with children with diabetes and their families, and I like helping them to fit their diagnosis into their lifestyle,” Buryk said. “I also found the physiology and the underlying disease processes in endocrinology interesting and stimulating.”

Lt. Cmdr. Daniel McMahon, the chief resident for general surgery at NMCP, was drawn to the Medical Corps by a combined thirst for knowledge and action.

“The surgical and technical procedure-based medical field is something I’ve always been interested in, and one of the reasons I joined the Navy was to get some operational experience,” McMahon said. “I spent a couple of years as a flight surgeon with a carrier wing in California, and I got some experience flying with F/A-18 squadrons, which was a blast.”

Lt. Cmdr. Jennifer Shippy, a psychiatrist at NMCP, wanted to treat more than just the physical ailments of Sailors and their families

“In psychiatry, we have the potential to help someone’s quality of life,” Shippy said. “Unlike hospitalizations for internal medicine or surgery, while they may be life-saving, there are still so many things that were unsettled as far as the patient’s personal life and quality of life, and I feel that you can really delve into those things in psychiatry.”

Lt. Cmdr. Vernon Mackie, an oncologist at NMCP, is inspired by the motivation he sees in cancer patients to beat this deadly disease.

“When I first became a doctor, my mentor was an oncologist, so he was really influential,” Mackie said. “I also like the patients because when a patient gets cancer, a lot of the other issues they’re dealing with become secondary and everybody is really focused on dealing with the cancer. Cancer is a difficult disease to treat, but patients are usually very appreciative and motivated to take part in their care.”

NMCP’s doctors have a deep appreciation for the Medical Corps and what it represents

“I think the Navy Medical Corps is fantastic,” Buryk said. “The Navy is a great place to practice medicine, and I just feel excited to come to work every day and take care of some awesome kids here. I think it’s fantastic that the Navy Medical Corps has been around this long.”

“By far, it was one of the best decisions, personally and professionally, that I could have made,” Shippy said. “Looking back over the last eight years, I’ve had the good fortune to take care of the most deserving patients in the world, as well as the most interesting and dynamic people I’ve had as my colleagues in the Medical Corps.”

“The military can’t function without doctors, overseas or here,” Mackie added. “You want Sailors to be able to concentrate on their job without worrying about what’s going to happen if they get hurt or sick. You want them to feel comfortable and confident that they’re going to be taken care of. There’s a lot in the Medical Corps to be proud of, whether it’s patient care, research or humanitarian efforts. Everyone in the Medical Corps should be proud to be a part of it.”

Established March 3, 1871, the Medical Corps is composed of 4,300 active and reserve members, with 23 specialties and nearly 200 subspecialties.

The Medical Corps has cared for service members during the Spanish-American War, World Wars I and II, and the conflicts in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, all while adding to a legacy of superb care. A few things you may not have known about the Medical Corps:

• U.S. Navy regulations once specified a unique uniform for medical officers, but they were not granted rank-equivalence with their line officers until World War I. Prior to that, medical ranks were Assistant Surgeon, Passed Assistant Surgeon, Surgeon, Medical Inspector and Medical Director.

• Former Navy Surgeon General Charles Stokes developed the wire-basket stretcher that bears his name and is still in use today.

• Capt. George Bond pioneered the study of underwater habitats with a project called SEALAB, which helped advance the understanding of the strains our Sailors can endure while undersea.

• Although there have been many designs for the Medical Corps staff insignia, the current oak leaf and acorn design reflect the desire of those within the field to enforce the idea that they are U.S. naval officers first and medical professionals second. The oak leaf symbolizes strength, and the acorn symbolizes development. Both have been used extensively, intoning those meanings throughout naval history. The oak leaf and acorn design was introduced in a General Order, Nov. 1, 1883, and went into effect July 1, 1884.

“It’s exciting to think about the history of the Medical Corps, where we come from, where we’ve been, and where we’re headed,” McMahon said. “It’s really neat to be working at the first naval hospital that was ever built; where it all began.”

For more news from Naval Medical Center Portsmouth, visit


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Updated March 1, 2017 (kbh)