(Here are some Military Career Progression Slides from a career planning lecture I often give to accompany this post.)
The typical career progression for a Medical Corps officer if promoted on time (the first time they are in-zone) is:
- 5 years – selected for promotion to LCDR
- 6 years – promoted to LCDR
- 11 years – selected for promotion to CDR
- 12 years – promoted to CDR
- 17 years – selected for promotion to CAPT
- 18 years – promoted to CAPT
For example, I’m a 15 year CDR, so I’ll be in-zone in 2 years at year 17. If I’m selected the first time I’m in-zone, I’ll be promoted to CAPT in year 18.
There are 5 general career paths in the Navy that lead to promotion, and I firmly believe that all can lead to promotion to CAPT. They are:
One of my favorite things about the Navy is that you don’t have to stay within the same career path as you progress in your career. I have happily jumped around and managed to promote to LCDR and CDR on time. During my first tour at USNH Okinawa, I was largely clinical. After that I was academic but transitioned to more of an administrative role, culminating with my time as a Detailer at PERS. In my current role as Commander of a Joint Medical Group and Joint Task Force Surgeon, I’m both administrative and operational. My next tour will return me to an academic setting where I hope to score a major administrative role at the command but once again “be academic.”
As you progress down your chosen career path, one of the major determinants of whether you will promote is whether you get the jobs that will allow you to progress to the next rank. The following lists include many, but certainly not all, of the collateral duties, positions, and achievements you should strive for once you reach each rank. If you can get some of these positions and do well in them, it should allow you to break out on your FITREPs and increase the chances you will promote. Of note, in each rank appropriate list there are positions from all 5 general career paths.
LTs or LCDRs looking to promote should focus on achieving these milestones or positions:
- Getting board certified, which is pretty much a requirement to promote
- Completing a fellowship, but trying to avoid being a fellow in the years right before they are in zone so that the non-observed FITREPs you often get don’t hurt your chances at promotion
- Completing a deployment, but again trying to avoid doing it right before you are in zone due to the small competitive groups you often get on your FITREPs
- Assistant/Associate Residency Director
- Department Head (DH) is a small/medium military treatment facility (MTF)
- Assistant Professor at USUHS, which is very easy to get if you just apply. See my promo prep document for the info on how to do this.
- Publishing professional publications
- Research, preferably defense-related
- Departmental collateral duties
- Hospital committee member or chair
- Executive Committee of the Medical Staff (ECOMS) member
- Civilian leadership positions, like in your specialty society’s state chapter, for example
- Senior Medical Officer (SMO) or Medical Director in your department at a large MTF
CDRs looking to promote should focus on:
- Residency Director
- DH of your department in a large MTF
- Associate Professor at USUHS
- Director position (Director of Medical Services, Director of Clinical Support Services, etc.)
- Officer-in-Charge of a clinic
- Major committee chair
- ECOMS member, Vice-President/President-Elect, or President
- Senior operational leadership position
- Division Surgeon
- Group Surgeon
- Wing Surgeon
- Commander, Amphibious Task Force (CATF) Surgeon
- SMO on an amphibious platform
- Staff position at BUMED
- Specialty leader
- Deployment requiring an O-5 or higher
As a LT or LCDR, I was able to get board certified, complete a fellowship at the right time, deploy twice, become an Assistant Professor at USUHS, publish numerous publications, do some research, obtain numerous departmental collateral duties, chair a hospital committee and be an ECOMS member at USNH Okinawa, become a SMO in the Navy’s largest emergency department, be an Associate Director at a large MTF, and hold numerous civilian leadership positions.
As a CDR so far I have promoted to Associate Professor, been a major committee chair and member of ECOMS, and served a tour as a Detailer. Currently I’m a specialty leader and am deployed in a senior operational role that required a CDR or CAPT.
All of this took a lot of work, but made it easy for my leadership to fight for and justify early promote (EP) FITREPs that allowed me to promote to LCDR and CDR on time. Will it work for CAPT? We’ll have to wait on that, but the more of these things you can achieve, the easier it will be for your leadership to do the same thing for you. You need competitive EPs to promote, and doing these things, giving your leadership the ammunition to justify EP FITREPs, is the path to getting them.