Anyone who's ever watched M*A*S*H, knows that many of the doctors there, didn't want to be there, and had been drafted. Then I recently ran across this (non-official) article, which says

Officers on the other hand can’t be drafted. An officer must take the oath freely and without reservation – under penalty of law. If it turns out you, as an officer, are unable to well and faithfully execute the duties of your office because you have mental reservations which you kept concealed at the time of your oath, then depending on the circumstances you’re likely to face resigning your commission or sitting in front of a court martial on your way to prison.

And the creator of M*A*S*H talked about his experiences being drafted, and how he came to create M*A*S*H, but doesn't say what the process was.

Doing various research, I've turned up various interesting items, but none that precisely answered the question. For instance, at one point (possibly the Vietnam war?) doctors who had part of their medical-school costs paid for by the U.S. government, were eligible to be called up - not quite a draft, since they presumably agreed to the payments.

It's also possible that the Oath of Office that officers took, was different earlier - I found one reference to it "taking its current form in 1959", and don't know what the earlier form was. I also found references to an Oath of Service as an alternative oath, but in the context of non-U.S. citizens.

So what was the situation, then? The doctors were clearly officers, not enlisted (who can be drafted). Were they required to take an oath "freely, and without reservation"? Or no oath of any kind? Everything I can think of, is problematic in one way or another.

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    I would assume the doctors have the choice of being drafted and serving as an enlisted or being drafted and serving as an officer and choose to take the oath. I could be wrong but I don't think it was a choice of being drafted as an officer or not drafted at all.
    – Joe W
    Commented Sep 19, 2022 at 18:52
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    You just went from "most doctors" to "some doctors". No matter the background of the person I would assume that some draftees into any military position would not want to be there.
    – doneal24
    Commented Sep 19, 2022 at 19:02
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    OK, but that still doesnt answer why specifically the Korean War procedures would be of interest here. Speculating how a modern day draft, IF it happened, would play out for US doctors in 2022 also is off limit for this site. Welcome aboard, and apologies for being a pest, but I just don't think this question belongs here. Commented Sep 19, 2022 at 19:08
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    I agree with @ItalianPhilosophers4Monica ; the draft was reformed in the US since the 1950s, the laws/procedures of then may or may not be relevant today or for future US conflicts. The/a question on the current US laws/procedures in this regard would on-topic here, but the MASH-focused Q belongs on H.SE. Commented Sep 19, 2022 at 21:28
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    Please do not use code formatting for non-code text (quotes, highlights, etc.). Code formatting has semantic meaning (“is meant for a computer more than a person”), and using it for other purposes can make your text less accessible (e.g. screen readers for the blind may read it in ways that are annoying and/or difficult to understand in their attempts to make sure it would be understood correctly if it were code). I’ve suggested an edit correcting your usage.
    – KRyan
    Commented Sep 20, 2022 at 13:40

3 Answers 3


Taken from the Yale Medicine magazine:

The reasons physicians serve in the military or soldiers go into medicine are as varied as the individuals who take these paths. For some, the armed forces offer a way to finance their medical education; for others the choice reflects a desire to serve their country. Still others were obligated in the past to serve as a result of the doctors’ draft, which, from 1950 to 1973, required male physicians and other health care providers to serve in the military.

So, many had their training paid for by the military, putting them (at least) into the reserves for later call up.

On the Doctors' Draft, Defense Media Network has:

Like the other organizations within the military, when the war started in June 1950, the medical departments were short of everything. The most acute shortage was with doctors, particularly specialists. A doctor draft was instituted in August 1950, and the first medical draftees arrived in Korea in January 1951. By the following year, 90 percent of the doctors stationed in Korea were draftees.

So, yes, there was a specific draft for doctors as well through the Korean War and into the early 1970's. Also note the statistic given that 90% of doctors in Korea were drafted.

From the York Dispatch comes some more details:

These medical professionals were part of Priority Group Three, and if the government called them up, they would be required to fill out Form 390 with their training and experience. Based on this form, a commission would be offered.

The doctor then had to make a choice. If he accepted the commission, he could choose his branch of service and also would receive $100 extra a month. Those who accepted were inducted by age with the youngest being inducted first.

If the doctor turned down the commission, he would be inducted just like civilian registrants.

So, yes, even if drafted through the Doctor draft you could refuse being commissioned as an officer.

One thing to note is that, for many people in the 1950's, even if they didn't want to be there, that did not mean they were opposed to taking the oath and serving. One can voluntarily take the officer's oath without having volunteered in the first place.

  • I know some were drafted, I was asking more about if they were forced to take an oath of allegiance, to become officers (which officers, voluntarily take).
    – John C
    Commented Sep 20, 2022 at 13:22
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    90% of Army doctors in Korea were drafted? Hmm... Looking at the SSS Timeline for Korean war, it says, "As a result of the Physicians and Dentists Draft Act, 7,054 physicians and 3,799 dentists are delivered by Selective Service to the Armed Forces. Less than 50 of them were actually inducted." It's just a blurb, though, and the link doesn't have any more information, so I don't really know what it means. It does seem rather hard to get detailed information from back then - guess there was no Interweb...
    – John C
    Commented Sep 20, 2022 at 16:03
  • Well, two good answers, but this one has a bit more detail, so checkmark.
    – John C
    Commented Sep 20, 2022 at 16:05
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    Hm, I guess "inducted" means drafted, as opposed to the option of "voluntarily" taking a commission... So it does sound like some doctors did refuse a commission - and then got drafted as privates...
    – John C
    Commented Sep 20, 2022 at 16:12
  • @JohnC exactly, but it's just another way of cheating the statistics: all the other doctors were already selected so they knew they'd get shipped there anyway. The only choice was to take the oath and get a bit more cash or be officially drafted. So they took that officer status most of the time
    – Hobbamok
    Commented Sep 22, 2022 at 10:26

No, but they were compelled to serve in the military. The American Association of Immunologists describes one recently graduated doctor's experience:

... In April of 1954, [Dr. Fitch] applied for and received a U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS) fellowship to study pathology at the University of Chicago. Shortly after arriving in Chicago that June, however, he received a letter from the McDonough (IL) County Selective Service Board informing him that the end of his internship also brought the end of his military deferment. Fitch now faced a decision.

Waiting for his number to be drawn virtually assured being drafted as a private into the U.S. Army and potentially serving as a combat medic were war to break out. Alternatively, Fitch could apply for a commission in a branch of the military offering the potential for involvement in some research. He chose the latter and applied for, and received, a commission in the U.S. Air Force (USAF) to enter service later that year with the rank of First Lieutenant.

In this case, as in others, there was no literal compulsion to take an oath, but failing to take the oath would risk being conscripted as an army medic. Accepting a commission gave the young doctor a number of benefits, especially as Dr. Fitch's training was in pathology, not trauma.

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    Shorter: If you wanted to be an officer, you had to take the oath. But you didn't have to be an officer.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Sep 19, 2022 at 22:02
  • So, doctors, as a group, were subject to the draft, like anyone else, and not subject to deferment? And "choosing" to commit as an officer, at least avoided being conscripted as a private? Sounds reasonable - although it does make me think of related questions. Like why they wouldn't all go for the AF, or Navy, to avoid being in the Army and on the front-lines (yeah, I know they'd fill up and be rejected). For that matter, I wonder if any doctors refused to "voluntarily" take the commission, and were drafted as a private.
    – John C
    Commented Sep 20, 2022 at 13:32
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    @johnc - doctors were subject just like everyone else. my uncle was in this situation in 1971 when get graduated med school. He was going to wait till his number came up and be drafted because that was only for 1 year, if he went the officer route it was something like 3-5 years plus some reserve service. he figured he would rather just get it over with and get on with life. The draft was ended before his number came up though so it all worked out best i guess.
    – ed.hank
    Commented Sep 20, 2022 at 15:00
  • @ed.hank one of uncles went the opposite direction. Had a low draft number, avoided being sent into the jungle carrying a rifle by getting the military to send him to med school; and then ended up doctoring for a few years somewhere in Alaska. I suspect by the time his education was complete the war had ended. Commented Sep 20, 2022 at 19:39

Only naturalized citizens take "Oaths of Allegiance" as part of gaining citizenship.

Military officers take "Oaths of Office", and enlisted take "Oaths of Enlistment" - the only difference is that officers swear loyalty to the Constitution while enlisted also swear obedience to the chain-of-command. Since a pre-requisite to become an commissioned officer is US citizenship, an Oath of Allegiance is unnecessary.

One is an oath of loyalty to the Constitution, and by consequence the country. The other is an oath to do the same, but as part of an instrument of the government set forth in the Constitution. Not coincidentally, all federal employees take an oath of office.

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    Adding a source would improve your answer. Thank you. Commented Feb 26 at 3:33

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