I receive questions all the time about what happens when you are passed over for promotion and are now “above-zone”. If you find yourself in this position, here is what you need to do:
- Realize that it is not the end of the world. Based on the FY20 CDR promotion board statistics, 47% of in zone officers were passed over, but a large number of the officers selected were from the above zone group.
- If you do nothing, you will continue to get looked at by promotion boards until you retire, resign, or are forced out of the Navy. There is no limit on the number of chances you get to promote and your record will be evaluated for promotion every year. That said…
- You need to try to promote. At a minimum, you should consider sending a letter to the promotion board. What do you say in this letter? First, briefly state that you want to be promoted and to continue your career in the Navy. Second, explain what a promotion would allow you to do that you can’t do at your current rank. Answer the question, “Why should they promote you?” For example, if you want to be a Department Head at a large military treatment facility (MTF) or a Residency Director (or whatever you want to do), tell them that you need to be promoted to CDR to be competitive for these jobs. The Navy wants to promote leaders. Make it clear to them that you are a motivated future leader.
- Try and get letters of support to attach to your letter. These letters should be from the most senior officers who can personally attest to your value to the Navy. In other words, it is probably better to get a letter from an O6 who knows you well than a 3 star who doesn’t. If you are not sure who to ask for letters, ask those more senior to you or your Detailer for advice. Your Specialty Leader is always someone to consider if he/she knows you well and can speak to your contributions to the specialty and Navy.
- Have your record reviewed by your Detailer, Specialty Leader, other trusted senior advisor, or by me. Because of promotion board confidentiality, you will never know the reason(s) you did not promote, but most of the time experienced reviewers can come up with an educated guess. They’ll often find things that you were not even aware of, like potentially adverse fitreps, or information missing from your record. My promo prep document will help you as well.
- Do everything you can to get “early promote” or “EP” fitreps. This is largely accomplished by continually striving for positions of increased leadership. You need to get a job that has historically led to a promotion. As a LCDR who got passed over for CDR, try to get one of these jobs and excel at it (this list is not exhaustive and these positions are not the only path to CDR, but they are a good start):
- Medical Executive Committee (MEC) member
- SMO on an amphibious platform
- Regimental Surgeon
- Member of a hospital committee or chair of a smaller committee
- Department Head in a small MTF
- Medical Director/Senior Medical Officer in a medium/large MTF
- Meet with your chain-of-command. After you’ve been passed over is not the time to be passive. You need to sit down with your leadership and get an honest assessment from them of how you’re doing and what they would recommend continuing to advance your career. You may not like what you hear, but it is better to find out early if they don’t think you’re doing a good job or that you are unlikely to break out on your fitreps. That way you can try and put yourself in a better situation by changing commands.
In addition to the above list of things you should do, there are a few things you should not do:
- Do not lie in your letter to the board. In other words, don’t tell them you want to do Executive Medicine if you don’t really want to. Your record reads like a book, and if it tells a story that is contrary to what your letter says, this is unlikely to help you and may hurt you.
- Do not send long correspondence. Promotion boards have to read everything sent to them, and a long letter may not be appreciated. Keep it brief and to the point.
- Do not ask your current CO to write you a letter to the board if they’ve done an observed fitrep on you. His or her opinion about you should be reflected on that fitrep, so they don’t need to write you a letter. If they’ve never given you an observed fitrep or there is some new information not reflected on prior fitreps, they could either write you a letter or give you a special fitrep. Ultimately it is up to them whether they do either of these or none.
- Do not discuss anything adverse unless you want the board to notice and discuss it. This issue comes up frequently and people will ask me for advice, but ultimately it is up to the individual officer. The one thing I can guarantee is that if you send a letter to the board and discuss something adverse, they will notice it because they will read your letter! If you think there is a chance the adverse matter will get overlooked, it is probably better not to mention it and keep your fingers crossed.
Those are my tips for those who find themselves above zone. Most importantly, if you want to promote, NEVER STOP TRYING. You can usually stay in as a LCDR for 20 years, and I personally know of people who got promoted their 4th look and have heard of people who succeeded on their 9th try!
If you are one of the lucky people who made CDR, I have some things for you to consider:
- The next 2-3 years of fitreps may mean very little to your overall career. First, you are soon going to be in the most competitive group in the Medical Corps, Commanders scratching and clawing to make Captain. If you are at a medium to large command, no matter what you do as a junior Commander, you are likely to get a P (promotable) on your fitreps. That is just how it works for most commands.
- This first bullet means that now is the PERFECT time to do something “alternative” (off the usual career path for a physician) or take a position that you know will get you 1/1 fitreps or be part of a very small competitive group. Go to the War College. Take a senior operational job where you’ll get a 1/1 fitrep. Become a Detailer. Apply for fellowship because the NOB fitreps won’t hurt you as a junior Commander or Commander Select. Now is the time to do these type of things. You don’t want to wait until you are a few years below zone for Captain. When you reach this stage you’ll need competitive EP fitreps.
- After you are selected for your next rank is also a great time to move/PCS. Have you ever been OCONUS? If not, now would be a great time to go. You can PCS somewhere for 2-3 years and then PCS to the command where you are going to set up shop and try to make Captain. At OCONUS commands there is more turnover of staff, so major leadership jobs like MEC President, Department Head, and director positions open up more frequently, setting you up to get a senior position when you return to CONUS.
- You may think I’m crazy, but it is time to start thinking about how you are going to make Captain. As I mentioned in the first bullet, getting a job that will make you a Captain is tough and competitive. Now is the time to do the things that will make you an excellent candidate for one of those jobs. Want to be a residency director? Maybe you should get a degree in adult or medical education. Want to be a director? Maybe you should get a management degree like a Masters in Medical Management or an MBA. Want to be a senior operational leader? Now is the time to do Joint Professional Military Education I and/or II.
- Here is a list of the jobs that I think will make you a Captain. Read the list…figure out which of these jobs you are going to use to make Captain…and get busy preparing yourself to get them:
- Residency Director
- Department Head in a large MTF
- Chief Medical Officer
- Major committee chair
- Medical Executive Committee President
- BUMED staff
- Specialty Leader
- Deployment requiring an O-5
- Senior operational leader
- Division/Group/Wing Surgeon
- CATF Surgeon
- Amphib or CVN Senior Medical Officer
Optimally you’ll have the time when you are an O5 to do multiple jobs on the preceding list. For example, as an O5 I had been a Detailer, a Specialty Leader, Department Head, Associate Director, and CO of a deployed unit. My next step was to become a director at a major MTF, and while I was a senior LCDR and CDR I obtained a Naval Postgraduate School MBA as well as achieved certification as a Certified Physician Executive to try and make myself a competitive candidate for a director position. Ultimately, I became the Director for Healthcare Business at NMC Portsmouth.
Congratulations on making Commander…take a deep breath…and start thinking about some of the things I mentioned in this post. Before you know it you’ll be in zone for Captain.
One of the most important documents viewed during promotion boards is your Performance Summary Report or PSR. It is the document that summarizes all of your FITREPs for the board, and it can be difficult to interpret. I created a screencast that will show you how to read your PSR. Here are the PPT slides and the screencast:
The FY20 Staff Corps O6 promotion board basic statistics are here. Let’s go over the basic stats for Medical Corps so that everyone understands them as they can be very confusing.
According to page 2 of the convening order, the promotion opportunity was 81%. The number of people in zone was 96. In order to find the total number of officers they could select for promotion, you take the promotion opportunity x the size of the zone:
(81% promotion opportunity) x (96 officer zone size) = 78 officers could be selected for promotion
As you see in the stats, they selected exactly 78:
- Above Zone – selected 24 of 134 or 18%
- In Zone – selected 49 of 96 or 51%
- Below Zone – selected 5 of 162 or 3%
As you can see, even though the promotion opportunity was 81%, the chance you got selected in zone was only 51% because selects came from above and below zone.
Many Medical Corps officers don’t understand the difference between their Specialty Leader and their Detailer. After you read this post, this won’t be a problem.
DIFFERENCE #1 – WHO THEY WORK FOR
A Specialty Leader works for Navy Medicine (BUMED), the Surgeon General, and the Medical Corps Chief while a Detailer works for Navy Personnel Command (NPC or PERS). NPC/PERS is a line command, while BUMED is obviously medical. This difference is probably not of significance to the average Naval physician, but it can make a difference at times because these two commands (and people) will look at things from a different perspective.
For example, let’s say you are one of two subspecialists at NMC Camp Lejeune and you have a fairly light clinical load. You decide you want to leave early to get to your next command, Naval Medical Center Portsmouth (NMCP), because they are actually down one provider in your specialty due to the illness of another member of your community. Your Specialty Leader will probably endorse this early move because it makes sense. You are underemployed at Lejeune and there is a need at NMCP.
Your Detailer, however, will look at it differently. First, you haven’t served your full tour, so moving you early will require a waiver that may be denied by PERS. This largely has to do with money and PCS rules and has nothing to do with your specialty or the needs of the Navy. I’m not saying that Detailers don’t care about the needs of the Navy because they do, but they are constrained by the rules of PERS while a Specialty Leader is not.
DIFFERENCE #2 – WHAT THEY DO
A Specialty Leader serves as a liaison between you, BUMED, and your specialty as a whole. He or she also coordinates deployments, although the control they have over this was lessened by the return to platform-based deployments (deployments determined by what billet you are in or what unit/platform you are assigned to rather than whose turn it is to deploy). They also serve as a consultant both to you and your Detailer when it comes to career management and PCS moves.
A Detailer is your advocate to help you advance in your career, prepare for promotion boards by improving your officer service record, and negotiate orders for your next PCS. They will often speak with both you and your Specialty Leader while trying to balance your needs with the needs of the Navy. They also are the final approval authority for extension requests and actually write your PCS orders.
DIFFERENCE #3 – WHAT THEY DON’T DO
Specialty Leaders do not write orders. Many physicians think that the Specialty Leader is the one who decides what orders they get and where they PCS, but the reality is that Specialty Leaders can’t write orders. Only Detailers can, therefore it is the Detailer who makes the final decision in nearly all cases. If there is a good Specialty Leader-Detailer relationship, most of the time both are in agreement and there is no controversy, but about 5% of the time there is at least some level of disagreement that has to be worked out.
Detailers can write your orders to a command, but they do not influence who gets command-level leadership positions. For example, you may want to go to Jacksonville to be the Department Head of your specialty’s department. A Detailer can write you orders to Jacksonville, but which physician the command picks to be Department Head is up to them, not the Detailer (or the Specialty Leader).
Specialty Leaders will often talk to commands, but Detailers usually do not. The Detailer is SUPPOSED to talk to three people – you, the Specialty Leaders, and the Placement Officers. The Placement Officers are officers at PERS who represent the commands. You can think of them as the detailers for commands. They make sure that commands aren’t taking gapped billets, that the providers sent to the command meet the requirements of the billet they are entering, and weigh in on other issues like extension requests.
I say that a Detailer is SUPPOSED to talk to three people and USUALLY does not talk to commands, but the reality is that commands frequently call the Detailer instead of talking to their Placement Officers. This often happens because the Director at a command knows the Detailer but doesn’t know the Placement Officer. In addition, the Detailer is usually a physician (3 of 4 Medical Corps Detailers are physicians, the 4th is a MSC officer) and the Placement Officer is always a MSC officer. Physicians like talking to other physicians.
Finally, Specialty Leaders do not alter your officer service record. In fact, unless you send it to them, they can’t even see it or your FITREPs. Detailers, on the other hand, can see just about everything and can update/change some things, mostly additional qualification designators or AQDs.
WHY SHOULD I CARE ABOUT ANY OF THIS?
Because you must actively manage your career to get what you want. This means you should talk with both your Specialty Leader and Detailer 9-18 months ahead of your projected rotation date (PRD). You should discuss your short and long-term goals, whether you want to PCS or extend, whether you are planning a Naval career or want to resign or retire, your family situation, and your medical situation if applicable.
Most importantly, though, is to be honest with both your Detailer and Specialty Leader. Most Specialty Leaders get along well with the Detailer, so if there is any disagreement between the three of you make sure that you keep things professional and respectful at all times. It’s a small Navy and, to be honest, it will be readily apparent if you are playing one off against the other.
(It is funny to read this 3 years later, as much of it is true to this day, as you’ll read in my 2019 notes in italics below.)
In my opinion, every Naval physician needs to have a list of people. On this list are the people who you absolutely, positively will not mess with. When you talk to them, you show them the utmost respect. When they ask you for something, you give it to them better and faster than you ever give anyone anything. These are the people who have determined your career path to this point and are likely to continue to steer if for the near future.
Who’s on your list? If you don’t know, you should think about this as soon as you can. You might think it is silly, but I’d actually make a list. Just to show you I’m serious, I’ll share my list (as it was when originally posted on the blog):
- Current Emergency Medicine (EM) Specialty Leader
- Prior Deputy Commander of NMC Portsmouth
- Prior EM Specialty Leader
- Current Director of Medical Services at NMC San Diego
- Prior EM Specialty Leader and Deputy Medical Corps Chief
Why are they on my list? They are Emergency Physicians like me, and they are the most senior and potentially influential people in my career. They are the people who are senior to me, well thought of in my specialty, and get phone calls or in person inquiries when I apply for a leadership position. For example, one of the people on this list thought of me when the Detailer job became available and endorsed me for it. (That same person just made me the incoming Deputy Medical Corps Chief. I show up at BUMED on September 3rd.)
Who’s not on my list? There are no admirals on my list (at least there weren’t at the time – there certainly are now). As a CDR, it is rare that I’m on the radar of an admiral. Some of them know who I am, and some of them could have a major impact on my career path, but it is unlikely that they’ll take a huge interest in my career until I’m a CAPT and qualify for major leadership positions working directly for them (somewhat of a prescient post, I guess). If an admiral wants to know about Joel Schofer, they’ll probably call one of the CAPTs on my list and ask them about me.
Who should be on your list? The people you should consider putting on your list include:
- Your Specialty Leader and prior Specialty Leader
- Your Detailer
- Influential people in your specialty who are 1-2 ranks senior to you
- Whoever is currently in the job(s) you want
Undoubtedly there are other people you should consider, but this list is a good start.
Once you create the list, here are the things you need to keep in mind. Always treat these people with the utmost of respect. You should always treat everyone with respect, but these people get special attention. Never get into an argument with them. I’m not saying you have be a “yes man” (or woman) and agree with everything that they say, but any disagreement needs to be collegial and respectful. You want to prevent them from getting mad at you, if at all possible. When they ask you for something or they give you a task, it immediately rises to the top of your to-do list. In addition, you never give them anything but your best, maximal effort.
The Navy is a large organization that can appear impersonal, but people run it. The people on your list are the ones who are going to determine your future and whether you get want you want or not. If I were you, this is one list I’d put some thought into and actually make.
There are many important dates in your Navy career. One of the most important and neglected dates, though, is your projected rotation date or PRD. Your PRD is the month and year that your current orders will expire and you are scheduled to rotate to a new command. If you don’t manage your PRD and pay close attention to it, you can find yourself with few career options and in a situation you never thought you’d be in. With that in mind, here are my tips for managing your PRD.
First, know when it is because many physicians don’t know their PRD. If you are in this crowd, the easiest way to find your PRD is to login to BUPERS On-Line and look at block 14 of your Officer Data Card:
The other way to find your PRD is to contact your detailer because they can look it up in the detailing system. Many physicians don’t know their detailer, so here is a link to a page with “Contact Us” in the middle. That link will take you to your detailer’s contact info, but note that it is CAC protected:
Once you know your PRD, the easiest way to manage it is with whatever calendar you use (an app, web calendar like Google Calendar, Outlook, a date book, etc.). Place reminders in your calendar to correspond with these time frames:
13-18 MONTHS BEFORE YOUR PRD – This is when you should start thinking about your next career move. Although the normal time period to request an extension (find a template here) at your current command is 9-12 months before your PRD, many physicians request an extension during this time period if they are sure they want to extend. This is also a great time to talk to the operational detailer about operational billets you might have interest in or the senior detailer about what I’ll call “alternative billets” like those at DHA/BUMED, BUPERS, global health engagement billets, NAVMEDWEST, NAVMEDEAST, etc. If you act on your PRD in this timeframe, you’ll be well ahead of the game.
9-12 MONTHS BEFORE YOUR PRD – This is the traditional detailing window where you contact your detailer and specialty leader to negotiate your next career move. This is when physicians normally submit an extension request as well as explore potential billets for their next set of orders. The one caveat is that the availability of billets is often contingent on the results of the Graduate Medical Education Selection Board or GMESB. Since these results are not finalized until January, people with summer PRDs will find that they may have to wait beyond this time period to find out what billets are available and get orders.
6-8 MONTHS BEFORE YOUR PRD – This is when the list of billets that are actually available will solidify and most physicians will get orders. If you want to extend at your current command and you haven’t submitted an extension request yet, you should do that ASAP.
1-5 MONTHS BEFORE YOUR PRD – Many physicians will get into this period without orders. If it is because you were waiting on the results of the GMESB, you are probably fine. If you are in this period for another reason, you should get nervous. The truth is that unanticipated things always happen. Commanding Officers don’t endorse extension requests. Unanticipated openings cause a detailer and specialty leader to have a “hotfill” billet. When things like this happen, a detailer goes looking for officers close to their PRD to fill the need. If you are in this window without orders, you are low lying fruit for filling these needs. And just so you know, most of these “hotfills” are not in Rota or San Diego.
AT YOUR PRD OR BEYOND – Physicians let their PRDs pass all the time. Sometimes it is because they submit an extension request that never gets approved because it gets lost somewhere in the process. Other times they don’t know when their PRD is. Realistically, there is often no consequence if your PRD “expires,” although some commands will pick up on this fact and get your attention by threatening to take away your computer access. The biggest threat, though, is the aforementioned “hotfills” that inevitably show up. If your PRD is expired, you are going to rise to the top of the list when the detailer goes looking for people to fill that need. Have fun wherever that “hotfill” is.
THE BOTTOM LINE – Know when your PRD is and manage it according to the above timeline. This will give you the maximum chance of getting what you want and reduce the chance that you are selected for a “hotfill” you don’t want.