Is Commander the New Terminal Rank? (And Other O6 Promotion Board Takeaways)

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In case you haven’t figured it out yet, it is getting harder to promote to Captain. Here are the historical promotion opportunities for O6. You don’t have to be a mathematician to notice the trend:

  FY08 FY09 FY10 FY11 FY12 FY13 FY14 FY15 FY16
CAPT 80% 80% 80% 80% 80% 60% 60% 60% 50%

There are a lot of physicians who came into the Navy when it was relatively easy for a physician to promote to Captain. If you could fog a mirror, you could likely promote. Well…things seem to have changed.

This has frustrated some physicians who failed to promote and is likely to frustrate more in the future. Aside from getting frustrated, though, it would benefit all involved if they could learn from this trend and try to adjust while there is still time. Here are my O6 promotion board takeaways:

  • It is now normal when you fail to select for Captain the first time. In the FY16 board only 39% of Commanders who were in zone were promoted, leaving 61%, a clear majority, who did not. Physicians should expect to fail to select or “get passed over” the first time they are up for O6.
  • Commander is the new terminal rank for full-time clinicians, and there’s nothing wrong with that. If the thought of taking on a significant collateral duty makes you want to cringe because you want to remain a full-time clinician during your time as an O5, you have likely reached your terminal rank. Physicians get very frustrated when they fail to promote to O6, thinking that the Navy doesn’t value clinical productivity, and this is just not true. The Navy does value clinical productivity, it just doesn’t think that they need to be Captains! The Captain rank has moved from being a reward attained by most physicians who hang around long enough to a reward for those with senior leadership potential.
  • The overwhelming majority of Commanders who promote to O6 take on a significant collateral duty. Whether they were a department head at a large MTF, a specialty leader, a residency director, a director, president of ECOMS, or in a senior operational role, they all had to pay their dues in these roles in order to score the EPs on their fitreps that allowed them to promote. These roles almost always necessitate a reduction in clinical activity, which is why you are less likely to promote to O6 as a full-time clinician.
  • Having only one competitive EP fitrep before the promotion board is often not enough. At some of the larger MTFs it can take quite a while to “break out” from the pack of Commanders and get an EP on your fitrep. If you are lucky enough to get an EP but you only slide one in before you are in zone, it may not be enough. As the competition heats up, it is the people with multiple competitive EPs that will be in the best position to promote.
  • You need to demonstrate career diversity while not hurting your chances to promote. The best time to mix it up is right after you are selected for Commander. You are finally senior enough to get a decent position at an operational command, BUMED, PERS, or some other alternative command. If instead of mixing it up you stay were you are, you will be the new, small fish in the largest pond in the Navy, the Commander fitrep competitive group. No matter what you do you are probably going to get promotable fitreps for a few years. You might as well use those years to break things up, PCS (even locally to an operational command – I’m not saying you have to move), and demonstrate to the Navy that you are willing to flex for the needs of the Navy. You may get 1/1 EP fitreps but while you are a junior commander this is unlikely to hurt you. Then once you are done with that tour, you can return to a larger competitive group and compete for one of the aforementioned jobs if you have making O6 on your radar.

5 thoughts on “Is Commander the New Terminal Rank? (And Other O6 Promotion Board Takeaways)

    Corey Gustafson said:
    June 16, 2015 at 19:41

    Good gouge. Do you suspect this trend will continue into the next presidency? It seems these trends in teh Navy (and other services for that matter) tend to be cyclical, so depending where in your career you run into these down cycles so goes your career.
    On that note, you’ve covered a lot here for junior CDR’s. Will you be putting out a similar article for those trying to make CDR?….if they ever release the board results.

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      Joel Schofer, MD, MBA, CPE responded:
      June 16, 2015 at 19:49

      Yes, I think things go in cycles. Right now we’re heavy on physicians and Captains in particular, so the promotion opportunity is down. I’m sure there will be changes in the future though, especially with the new initiatives that the SECNAV is pushing to change/modernize promotion boards and fitreps.

      I’ll post something similar once the CDR results are out and I’ve had some time to digest the results. Thanks for reading!

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    mickaila johnston said:
    June 30, 2015 at 10:17

    thank you for this guidance. I’ve read your [promo prep guidance.ppt] like a bible in the past, and hearing a “talk/blog” like this really helps.

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    William C. Brunner said:
    July 1, 2015 at 11:38

    As a Director, it amazed me when I would see draft FITREPs from O-5s that essentially stated: Showed up for work (as a clinician, not DH), maintained clinical qualification, never got arrested, passed the PFA/BCA twice, did a 1/2 Marathon on my own time: 5.0 across the Board, EP as suggested ranking.

    Clinical productivity is valued and rewarded: with salary, VSP/ASP/ISP/MSP and Board-certification pay. Promotion to O-6 is incumbent upon proving value to the enterprise by impact beyond your Department, across your organization or potentially to Regional or wider impact.

    Getting promoted during the “easy” years (FY-11) took 2 cycles, 3 years as Department Head, 3 years as an ECOMS Subcommittee Chair, Deputy ECOMS, 8 months as a Director, 2 Operational tours (1 CVN, 1 IA) with contributions sufficient to be recognized by 2 MSMs, and a letter from an O-7.

    Seek out challenges, make an impact, strive to improve, not only yourself but all who work for you and others around you! Anyone simply maintaining the status quo cannot (and arguably, should not) expect to see a silver eagle on their collar.

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