Can you trust military hospitals? An unscientific review of Navy medical centers

(Photo: U.S. Navy photo, Jacob Sippel/Released)

You’ve likely heard a lot recently about naval hospitals thanks to two female corpsmen who posted videos of themselves making newborn babies dance to rap music. They also shared a picture of one corpsman holding up the middle finger and calling the babies “mini Satans.” Awesome.

I never gave birth at Naval Hospital Jacksonville where that incident happened. But as a military spouse with four kids, I have given birth at three other naval hospitals. Thankfully, I never encountered any corpsmen who treated babies that way.

What I did encounter was plenty of interesting situations unique to military life. Giving birth at a military hospital has its own unique set of challenges, especially if you are overseas. Every mom has to decide for herself whether to have a baby on base or off base. I can’t make the decision for you, but I can tell what I have learned about the following military hospitals. The list isn’t complete, because I haven’t experienced every naval hospital in the world, (even if my small herd of children makes it appear like that is one of my life goals).

We present to you: The totally accurate but incomplete review of naval hospitals.

National Naval Medical Center Bethesda, Maryland

This huge hospital is one of the largest in the Navy. Fun fact: We first visited when my husband (then boyfriend) returned to the States after being wounded in Iraq. At the time, we had no idea we would end up returning there a few years later to have our first baby.

The Pros:

  • Large, well-trained staff.
  • Pre-birth classes for new moms.
  • Many recovery rooms.
  • Good cafeteria.
  • Beautiful courtyard.

The Cons:

  • It’s a teaching hospital, which means one or two interns follow every doctor. So instead of having two or three doctors in the room when you deliver, you will have around eight staff members in there. (Don’t worry, at that moment, you really won’t care at all who is seeing what parts of your body.)
  • Bethesda is the designated delivery hospital for all families stationed at Quantico, Virginia. It’s juuuust within the Tricare coverage zone. But with DC traffic, getting there can take 2 hours on some days. So… don’t go into labor too quickly?
  • You have to order your meals by calling the cafeteria. But only during hours when they are open. Otherwise, they won’t bring you anything. And if you deliver in the middle of the night, you won’t get any food for a while. This is a real bummer when you just had a baby and haven’t eaten all day!

Naval Hospital Camp Lejeune, North Carolina

The Pros:

  • Convenient location for anyone living on or off base.
  • Your prenatal care and delivery will be at the same hospital, possibly with the same doctors.
  • Prenatal classes and big sibling sessions.
  • Large delivery rooms.
  • Average cafeteria food.
  • They have Subway (my husband’s only criteria for judging a hospital for birthing.)

The Cons:

  • Prone to hurricanes, which can shut down the base. If the hospital loses power, the generators only work on the delivery floor, not the recovery unit. If you deliver during a hurricane (like I did), they will give you a flashlight, along with fruit snacks and granola bars instead of meals.
  • The corpsmen. They didn’t take my blood sample to the lab fast enough to approve an epidural, so after I waited an hour (screaming in pain) they had to draw it again. They thought this was a good time to discuss how they had never put a needle in an actual patient before… right in front of me. They stuck me multiple times and I had bruises on my arm for days.

Naval Hospital Rota, Spain

The Pros:

  • You’re having a baby overseas, but all the doctors and nurses speak English. Yay!
  • Extensive classes about paperwork and how to get the Spanish birth certificate.
  • You will probably have the same doctor for prenatal visits and delivery.
  • It’s a small hospital only delivering 1-2 babies per week, so you get star treatment.
  • Amazing steak and lobster meal provided after giving birth!

The Cons:

  • No NICU or specialty doctors, so if you have twins, need a C-section or have a high-risk pregnancy, you will automatically be sent to a local Spanish hospital.
  • There are only two OB-GYNs on staff, so on the rare occasion when two women are in labor on the same day and one doctor is away on leave, the remaining doctor will be freaking out with two simultaneous patients. (I had to reassure him that I would labor slowly and wait for the other woman to deliver first. True story.)

There are many other naval hospitals located on military bases all over the world. I have no desire to deliver a baby at every one of them, although I have had great experiences.

By Lizann

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3 Replies to “Can you trust military hospitals? An unscientific review of Navy medical centers”

  1. Molly Grasso says:

    The food situation at Bethesda is not accurate. I have delivered all 3 of our kids there, most recently 3 weeks ago and as soon as I had our son the nurse provided me with good options (it was 11pm) and the brought food to me.

    Additionally, I had an attending physician, senior resident, and medical student when I delivered. I chose to allow the medical student to assist. Other than that, it was my nurse and the corpsman who was there to assist with baby. Everyone was absolutely wonderful and professional. They absolutely centered me and my newborn in everything that they did. I feel extremely blessed and thankful to have delivered at such a superb hospital.

  2. Hi, First of all, I take offense at the title of your article. It’s click-bait just to get people to read it. There was nothing here substantive about negligence on the part of any Naval hospital you have visited, just a bunch of personal inconveniences as I see it. And, you end your article by saying you had “great experiences”! You are being very misguided here.

    1. Fun fact: National Naval Medical Center Bethesda has been renamed Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for many years. It is no longer a Navy Hospital, but a combination of all services. As Molly stated above, the food situation has improved quite a bit since your stay, and the staff go to great lengths to accommodate their patients in the off hours. A corpsman went and got me a sandwich when I was in the ER after midnight and hadn’t had dinner!
    2. Yes, it’s a teaching hospital. There are teaching hospitals in the civilian world, too. This is how doctors learn. Roll with it; they are professionals trying to get better at helping you. Humans make much better practice than inanimate dummies!
    3. I know that this was all about your experiences, but please, don’t portray all doctors who might have multiple patients at a time as “freaking out”.
    4. The men and women of Navy Medicine are some of the finest professionals you will ever be blessed with to take care of you. Yes, there is always a bad seed here and there, just like in the civilian world. Please remember that. The civilian world is not perfect.

    You might think about printing a retraction with a better title.

    1. The men and women of Navy Medicine are only second to the men and women of Air Force Medicine 😉

      Something that I think the mil spouse community forgets is that military doctors are in the military too, and the only thing that separates a military doctor from a civilian doctor is the uniform. Same medical schools, same exams, same boards, same GME and CME requirements.

      They are patriots just like all the men and women in uniform.

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