Throwback Thursday Classic Post – Is Commander the New Terminal Rank? (And Other O6 Promotion Board Takeaways)
(2019 Note – This is one of the most popular posts on the blog and helped put it on the map. Since the FY16 O6 promotion opportunity of 50% when it was published in 2015, we’ve seen an uptrend:
- FY17 – 70% promotion opportunity – 34% in zone selection rate
- FY18 – 80% – 37%
- FY19 – 90% – 41%
- FY20 – 81% – 51%
That said, much of what I said in 2015 is still very true. Enjoy!)
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:
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. (Only FY20 got over 50%, and barely at 51%.)
- 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 obtained 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 where 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 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.