Why Didn’t More GMOs, UMOs, and Flight Surgeons Promote to O4?

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I’ve been asked this question multiple times since the FY21 LCDR promotion board stats came out. Many looking at the stats noticed these facts:

  • The overall in-zone promotion rate was 83.19%.
  • The rate for GMOs, UMOs, and Flight Surgeons were all lower than this:
    • GMO – 66.67%
    • UMO – 40%
    • Flight Surgery – 42.86%

This seems to argue against the recent advice to “go operational” to successfully compete for promotion. What gives? The following is my best guess, and it is a guess. I was not on the board, and if I was I wouldn’t be able to talk about it.

Let’s look at the typical career path for a Medical Corps LT who does GMO, UMO, or Flight Surgery:

  • Year 0 – Graduate from medical school and put on LT.
  • Year 1 – Finish internship and go GMO, UMO, or Flight Surgery.
  • Years 2-4 – Do a 2-3 year operational tour.
  • Years 3-4 – Match in a residency program.
  • Year 5 – You are in-zone for LCDR.

If in year 5 you are still a GMO, UMO, or Flight Surgeon, you probably haven’t matched in a residency either because you can’t or you’ve chosen to pay back the 3-4 years you owe the Navy and get out. In the latter case, you may have approved resignation orders in the system, which the promotion board will see on your record.

This timeline is obviously not applicable to anyone with prior service, entry-grade credit, or an abnormal promotion timeline, but it is applicable to the majority of Medical Corps LTs. For example, I did internship, 1 year as a GMO, 3 years of residency, and then was picked on-time/in-zone for LCDR, which I put on as a staff Emergency Physician. Back in the day, I showed up in the stats under Emergency Medicine. Anyone in a residency will show up under their specialty’s statistics.

Bottom Line – Why didn’t more GMOs, UMOs, and Flight Surgeons promote to LCDR?

Again, this is just a guess, but if you are in an operational billet your 5th year you either can’t match in a residency or are getting out, both of which do not portend well for promotion.

Takeaway – Your primary job and career goal as a LT is to match in a residency program that will lead to board certification. You can always “go operational” later. Spending too much time in the operational setting can lead to difficulties promoting.

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