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!
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.
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.
(You can find all of my FITREP education here, including the FITREP Prep document.)
When I was a Detailer, I would review a lot of records for people who failed to promote. Over and over again I would see FITREPs that reflected poorly on the officer. A lot of the time they didn’t realize it was even an issue, and sometimes they did it to themselves. Here are the top 5 FITREP mistakes you want to make sure you don’t make:
- Getting anything other than an early promote (EP) when you are getting a 1/1 FITREP, also known as an “air bubble.”
If you are the only officer in your competitive category (meaning that you aren’t competing against anyone on that FITREP), make sure you get an EP. Just like a single air bubble, you should “rise to the top” and get an EP. If you don’t get the air bubble and get a promotable (P) or must promote (MP), it reflects poorly on you unless it is CLEARLY EXPLAINED in the narrative why you are getting a P or MP. Here you can see an officer who got a 1/1 MP in his/her last FITREP and how it would be noted at a promotion board:
For example, if your reporting senior doesn’t give newly promoted officers an EP, your narrative should say something like, “Newly promoted officers do not receive EP rankings.” Sometimes this happens because your reporting senior is an officer from another service and he/she doesn’t understand the “Navy rules” for FITREPs. Sometimes it happens because either you or your reporting senior wants to give you a P or MP so you can “show progression” and get an EP. If you want to show progression, do it on the overall marks, not the final promotion recommendation. For example, give yourself a 4.0 EP, then a 4.17 EP, and finally a 4.33 EP. DO NOT give yourself a P or MP if you are getting a 1/1 FITREP.
- Both officers in a competitive group of 2 getting a MP FITREP.
If you are in a competitive group of 2, your reporting senior should give 1 of you an EP and the other a MP. If he/she gives you both a MP, it reflects poorly on both of you. Most often this will happen at an operational command and/or when there are 2 officers who are competing but are in the same promotion year group. Make sure your reporting senior doesn’t take the easy road and give you both a MP. One of you should get the EP, and the other can get a MP with a strong narrative explaining why.
- Declining from an EP to an MP without changing competitive groups (or “moving to the left”).
Most often I would see this when a resident who was in a large competitive group was given an EP FITREP. Then when they graduate from residency, their competitive group shrinks and they don’t get an EP but are left with an MP. Here’s what it looks like on when projected at the promotion board:
If I was you, I’d fight this like a dog. If they can’t keep you at an EP and you didn’t do anything wrong to deserve this, make sure the reason for your drop from an EP to a MP is clearly explained in the FITREP narrative.
If this happens to you because you are changing competitive groups, like when you get promoted or move from residency/fellowship to a staff physician at the same institution, it is not a black mark in any way and is expected.
- Not getting a 5.0 in Leadership.
If you are writing your own FITREP, you can’t give yourself a 5.0 in every category, but of all the categories Leadership is probably the most important one. Make sure you give yourself a 5.0 in Leadership because that is what the promotion board is looking to promote, future leaders. Having less than a 5.0 can send a bad message to the board.
Sometimes you have no control over this, and sometimes you may deserve less than a 5.0 in Leadership, but do your best to get a 5.0 there if at all possible.
- Giving yourself an overall trait average less than your reporting senior’s average.
Every reporting senior has an overall trait average for each rank that includes all of the FITREPs that they’ve done for that rank. You want to try and find out what it is.
While a reporting senior can look up their average on BOL, you can’t. You can, though, see it on your Performance Summary Record if you’ve received a FITREP from them at your current rank. Although it changes every time they do more FITREPs, their average the last time they did a round of FITREPs can be found on your PSR and is highlighted below by the red arrow with blue text (this reporting senior had ranked 6 LCDRs and had an average of 3.50 at that time) on one of the slides from my FITREP video podcast:
If you have never received a FITREP from your reporting senior at your current rank, maybe your one of your friends has. The other way to find out their average is to ask your chain-of-command. Someone, usually the command’s FITREP coordinator, will know their average for your rank.
It is probably obvious that once you find out their average, you’d like to make sure you are above it. Sometimes there is nothing you can do to be above it because you are getting a P and/or you deserve to be below it, but make sure you don’t rank yourself below it if given the chance to write your own FITREP.
In summary, those are the top 5 FITREP mistakes I often see. If you are interested in learning more, grab a copy of your FITREP and watch this video podcast. In 45 minutes you’ll know everything you need to know to write effective FITREPs.
There is a HUGE knowledge deficit in the Medical Corps about FITREPs, which is sad when you consider that they are probably the most important document in our Naval careers. To address this deficit I created this video podcast. In 43 minutes you’ll know just about everything that you need to know about FITREPs. This material is based on about 10 lectures I collected over the years and is consistent with the 2015 update of the FITREP instruction.
Grab a FITREP to look at or start up NAVFIT98a and write your FITREP as you watch the video because it will be much easier to follow along this way. In addition, here are the slides to download and view and the page with all my FITREP resources: