Reading Dr. Crusher's biography on Memory Alpha, I don't understand how it is exactly that she got to be a Commander. When did she put in the time as an officer in a non-medical capacity, enough to merit this promotion? Or can you advance in rank merely by serving as a Doctor on a ship or in another military installation?

Edit: Let me be more specific.

  • 2350: Graduates SF academy (a little pun there).
  • 2352: Still a medical intern.
  • 2354: Lives at "home", so not on active duty (? Or maybe in SF medical?) - that's where Picard delivers her husband's body.
  • 2362: Takes bridge officer test, promoted to Commander.

Did she ever serve on any ship at all before her promotion? And her passing that test? I understand that people might be able to advance not through actual command posts, but still - no field experience with significant authority, and you are deemed capable of commanding a starship? I don't get it.


  • She passed a bridge officer's exam, but that's just one of the conditions; otherwise any ensign could take it, pass it and be a commander. The question is about command experience.
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    “merely by serving as a Doctor on a ship” — merely?? Why don’t you ask her just before she’s about to give you and the captain life-saving treatment for an alien virus? Feb 26, 2016 at 10:10
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    @einpoklum if he had the necessary skills and knowledge, then yes Feb 26, 2016 at 10:16
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    @einpoklum: I think Worf actually was in charge of a small engineering team in one episode. He did okay. Feb 26, 2016 at 10:28
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    @PaulD.Waite: He was a disaster until O'Brien set him straight, though. Oct 24, 2016 at 18:52
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    @LightnessRacesinOrbit: I like to think Doctor Crusher was too, until she absorbed a bit of Miles’ wisdom. CRUSHER: I just can’t determine the nature of this pathogen! [O’BRIEN pops his head round the doorway.] O’BRIEN: Have you tried being slightly racist towards Cardassians? Oct 24, 2016 at 20:27

4 Answers 4


It is implied that she passed the Bridge Officer's Examination

In TNG 'Thine Own Self', in the opening scene we see Commander Crusher taking the night shift:

TROI: Fine. It was good to see some old friends. I'd lost touch with most of them. It's interesting to see the different paths some of their lives have taken. Beverly, you don't usually stand a watch on the Bridge even when Data's not here.

CRUSHER: I volunteered tonight. I like to put in a little Bridge time now and then, stay on top of operations, tactical procedures. The truth is, I like it. It's not every doctor who gets to command a starship, even if it is the night shift.

TROI: May I ask you a personal question? Why did you decide to become a Commander? I mean, you didn't need the rank in order to be Chief Medical Officer, so why put yourself through all the extra work?

CRUSHER: Oh, I don't know. I never even thought about my rank for a long time. It seemed pretty trivial compared to being a doctor. But then, about eight years ago, I started to feel like I wanted to stretch myself a little.


I've bolded the above two sections. The first section shows that, you're quite right - not every doctor can become a commander of a starship. The second phrase I've bolded shows that Crusher had the desire to undergo that 'extra work' to become a qualified commanding officer. Later in that episode we see Troi eventually passes the Bridge Officer's Examination, so it seems to me that it's implied she simply did whatever is needed to become a commanding officer, namely passing the bridge officer's examination.

Memory Alpha goes so far as to say that Crusher did pass the test in 2362, 8 years before 'Thine Own Self', although this quote didn't actually specify that Crusher did pass it then - merely that she began thinking about it.

The Memory Alpha page on the Bridge Officer's Examination indicates that it is more than the single test we see Troi performing in the Holodeck, explaining what the 'extra work' is that Troi refers to at the start. That page also says that one must pass this examination to command a Starfleet ship, hence it is implied that Crusher passed the Examination.

  • Passing this exam is not a substitute for military command experience, it's just one of the sine qua non requirements for being a Commander. (And remember Lt. Commander Data has passed it, with him being far more experienced than her).
    – einpoklum
    Feb 26, 2016 at 9:16
  • @einpoklum in that case, your question becomes far broader, expanding more to what it takes to become a bridge officer for anyone Feb 26, 2016 at 10:17
  • She could have been a Lieutenant Commander or a Lieutenant and a bridge officer. What kind of experience does she have to make her a Commander, though? In the military, people don't just skip up the rank ladder, they need to work for it (or kiss up to high-ranking officers etc.)
    – einpoklum
    Feb 26, 2016 at 10:20
  • Please see my edit.
    – einpoklum
    Feb 26, 2016 at 13:03

She was promoted through the ranks. Commander is a rank, not a title like "Skipper". As much as some people argue that Star Fleet isn't military, it has a military rank structure very similar to the U.S. Navy:

  • Ensign
  • Lieutenant
  • Lt. Commander
  • Commander
  • Captain
  • Admiral

In the U.S. Navy, I have worked with full bird Captains who were medical officers. They advanced through the ranks the same as any other billet. There are quite a few officers of high ranks who have never been in COMMAND (Probably no Admirals, though). If you command a ship (no matter how small), you are referred to as "Captain" or "Skipper", but only for the time you are in command. You can command a small ship as a Lt. or Lt. Cmdr. You also get a nifty Command pin to wear the rest of your time in service, that distinguishes you from other officers who have never commanded a ship.

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    I think Grace Hopper became a Rear Admiral in the US NAVY without ever being in command of a vessel. I wonder if she even set foot on one during her career.
    – Philipp
    Feb 26, 2016 at 14:14
  • @einpoklum: The key point, I think, is that "Commander" is simply a word used to denote a particular rank. It doesn't necessarily mean that an officer with this rank actually commands a vessel or anything else, nor that they are necessarily qualified to do so. Feb 26, 2016 at 15:07
  • Still, it seems like those ranks are just being handed around like candy - unless Cmdr. Crusher has some history I don't know about.
    – einpoklum
    Feb 26, 2016 at 15:10
  • Several White House physicians have been Generals, Admirals... en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Physician_to_the_President Oct 24, 2016 at 18:53

My understanding of military ranks is that there are jobs, and the jobs have a rank requirement attached. If that holds in Star Trek, anyone whose job requires them to command nobody would likely be an Ensign. Anyone whose job requires them to manage Ensigns would be at least one rank up from that. Each level up is basically another level of intermediate management.

(There's clearly some flexibility within a job, because we see people promoted without any obvious change in responsibility. So it's possible that a Lt. Commander and a Commander can do the same job, and the difference between the two is seniority.)

So Crusher would be a commander because she, as part of her job managing the medical department on the Enterprise, might have to give orders to Lieutenants, who are in turn giving orders to Ensigns. Remember, she's CMO on a ship with over a thousand people aboard. She probably has a staff of dozens that we just never saw much of. Bashir, by comparison, was a Lt. JG early in DS9 when the station was underpopulated. He was promoted a step later in the show when the station gained population, and presumably medical staff. Similarly, Sisko is promoted when commanding DS9 became a bigger job.

Of course, rank is one requirement to hold a particular job, but it isn't the only requirement. Just like Geordi couldn't go run the medical department, and Worf couldn't go run the engineering department, Beverly couldn't command the ship without some specialized training. And when she got that training, her job changed; she wasn't just CMO, she was also a bridge officer.

  • No, it doesn't necessarily work like that. When Lt. Commander data has the bridge, he has the ship, and can give orders to Commander Crusher. Rank hierarchy != Command hierarchy in every case. Also, it's specifically stated in "Thine Own Self" that she didn't have to be a Commander to be Chief Medical Officer aboard the Enterprise, it was a matter of choice.
    – einpoklum
    Feb 26, 2016 at 15:09

Your question is similar (not identical) to asking why Col. Potter in MASH attained the rank of colonel, when he had no experience leading troops in combat.

An officer in the armed services can attain high rank by outstanding and long service in his or her speciality. Adm Grace Hopper was mentioned in another answer. Her speciality was computers.

Starfleet ranks are modeled on the ranks in the US Navy, as another answer said. Commander in the USN is the equivalent of Lt. Colonel in the US Army. In the Army, Commander Crusher would be Lt. Colonel Crusher.

In addition, Beverly trained & passed an exam to qualify her for command of a starship. This was probably a long and arduous course, involving many simulations of battles, including the Kobayashi Maru. In universe, Starfleet would have wanted many officers on the ship to qualify for command -- deep backup on a long voyage to the unknown.

Out of universe, whoever was in command of Star Trek at the time probably wanted to show women in command positions, hence Crusher and Troi.

To repeat, Commander Crusher's rank of Commander (equivalent to Lt. Colonel) has nothing to do with her qualifying to command the ship.

Being thrust into command unexpectedly and with little experience is what training is supposed to prepare an officer for.

  • "This was probably a long and arduous course" - When did it happen? Where? On a planet, in a starbase, on ships? If so, which? What were the official capacities other than "trainee" for Crusher?
    – einpoklum
    Feb 28, 2016 at 22:13
  • @einpoldum I don't think there is a canon answer to the question in your comment. It seems logical to me that the training would have taken place on the starship (either the Enterprise or her earlier ship), under the supervision of the First Officer, or someone he/she delegated, and would have involved computer simulations and training red alerts -- training red alerts are part of training the entire crew. While she was doing this, she was also performing her medical duties. She trained in her spare time.
    – user48960
    Feb 28, 2016 at 22:22
  • She became a Commander before coming aboard the Enterprise. About a previous ship - what ship was that? Don't we even know that?
    – einpoklum
    Feb 28, 2016 at 22:26
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    Actually, Potter was a Calvary officer in WWI, IIRC. That's why he loved horses. So, he did command troops in combat. But that relates to earning your CIB. He was the COMMANDER of the 4077th MASH, and commanded smaller units throughout his career. In all branches of service, there's an officer in charge of each unit: A Lt. might lead a platoon, a Captain a company, a Major a battalion, and so on. But there are plenty of staff billets as well, because there are more officers than there are units to command. There are full Colonels who never commanded a unit, but Col. Potter isn't one of them.
    – CigarDoug
    Feb 29, 2016 at 19:44
  • @CigarDoug Thanks for the added info and correction re Col. Potter's experience in a combat unit.
    – user48960
    Feb 29, 2016 at 20:19

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