In TNG, Beverly Crusher has the rank of Commander. Since she is a high-ranking officer, it got me thinking about doctors in general. Is there a rank for doctors that is higher than Commander? Could a doctor make it to Captain, even if they are not in command of a starship?

Of course, a doctor with a rank higher than Commander couldn't be on a ship because of command conflict, but I don't see why a doctor with the rank of Captain couldn't serve on a starbase.

  • Even the holographic doctor on Voyager made Captain at one time. (Unfortunately, as it turned out later, that didn't really happen. But still.)
    – Mr Lister
    Apr 10, 2013 at 18:45
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    There wouldn't necessarily be a command conflict - the position of ship's captain is not a rank. There are historical cases of Surgeon-Captains and Engineering Captains serving on ships in various navies without undermining the position of the ship's captain.
    – HorusKol
    Apr 10, 2013 at 23:36
  • @MrLister - He was also commanding the ship during the episode Workforce. Not sure if that included an acting rank or just the command though.
    – Compro01
    Apr 11, 2013 at 3:10
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    In the modern U.S. Navy, the position of being responsible for the ship and her crew is that of "commanding officer", which helps a bit to differentiate from the naval rank of "Captain" (which is not even a requisite to command a naval ship; just the big ones) and the position, which would carry with it the honorific of "Captain".
    – KeithS
    May 31, 2013 at 0:26
  • In most military branches, ALL ranks are available for promotion to ALL career paths. However, combat arms usually take precedence. Most hospital commanders in the Air Force are doctors and Colonels (Naval equivalent is Captain). However, if you have an Army tank Colonel and an Army Doctor Colonel, the tank Colonel would be the one "in charge" in non medical situations.
    – JohnP
    Feb 27, 2014 at 20:58

7 Answers 7


A very old Dr. McCoy appeared as an admiral in the "Encounter at Farpoint", the first episode of Star Trek the Next Generation. Presumably he was promoted to captain at some point before that.


Do alternate realities count? If so then we have Captain Beverly Crusher:

In an alternate future (the final episode, All Good Things), Beverly had been promoted to captain and was commanding the medical ship USS Pasteur.

And back in the usual reality, Crusher was given explicit command in the episode Descent:

When asked by La Forge who would be in command of the Enterprise, Doctor Crusher enters the bridge and asks for last orders. [...] Both officers wished each other good luck, with Picard adding "captain" to her title.

Of course that's the title of Captain rather than the rank of Captain.

There's also Captain Krasnovsky from the ST:TOS episode Court Martial:

Captain Krasnovsky [...] wore a blue sciences division dress uniform, making him the highest-ranking officer to appear wearing science division dress colors, as admiral McCoy's uniform could be either sciences or command. All other science officers seen on Star Trek were commanders or below.

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Krasnovsky was just a bit part so we don't know if his blue uniform is "medical doctor blue" or "scientist blue" but I thought I would mention it anyway.


In the later movies of TOS team, Kirk, Spock, McCoy & Scotty all held the rank of Captain, even though only Kirk was the actual Captain of the ship. Do not mistake the rank of Captain with the position/title of Captain. They are two separate things. Anyone who is in official command of a ship, regardless of actual rank, holds the position of Captain.

In the US and other navies today, it is common practice that on smaller ships, such as destroyers and frigates, for officers of lower ranks, such as Commander or Lt. Commander, to be in command. They hold the title and office of Captain, despite not holding the rank. It is also not unheard of for someone in command of a large ship, such as a carrier, to be of the rank of Admiral. They still hold the title of Captain on that ship.

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    I know that Spock and Scotty (and Sulu) were promoted to Captain at various times in the movies, but I don't remember any mention of McCoy being promoted prior to his showing up as an Admiral in Encounter at Farpoint. Do you have a citation? Apr 10, 2013 at 14:58
  • @KeithThompson he would have had to had been promoted to Captain first, and then Admiral.
    – Monty129
    Apr 10, 2013 at 20:58
  • @Monty129: Very likely, but is it theoretically possible he could have skipped a rank? In any case, I don't think we know when he would have been promoted to Captain. (He probably didn't care much about rank anyway, being "a doctor, not a [...]".) Apr 10, 2013 at 21:19
  • Been quite a while since I watched ST IV-VI. I was trying to find a reference to a Stardate or timepoint when he was promoted, but I have found nothing about exactly when it happened, leaving it in the air somewhere between ST VI and Farpoint. It's very unlikely, however, that he would be made Admiral without being a Captain for a certain period of time.
    – BBlake
    Apr 10, 2013 at 22:03
  • I don't remember any mention of McCoy being promoted prior - I vaguely recall something from one of the novels, but I can't remember which one.
    – Zoredache
    Apr 11, 2013 at 7:09

There are a couple of officers who hold the rank of Captain yet do not command a starship:

  • Phillipa Louvois, who was the judge in Data's "trial" in "Measure of a Man".
  • Krasnovsky, who conducted Kirk's court martial in "Court Martial". He also wore a blue (science) uniform.

Also, Vice-Admiral Toddman, who worked for Starfleet Security on earth, wore a gold uniform, perhaps implying that he was at one point a non-command captain.


I don't see why not. In the US Navy, the senior medical officer is the Surgeon General of the US Navy, who holds Vice-Admiral rank. Rank doesn't necessarily denote command responsibilities for a ship.

  • I do realize that. But I am trying to find an example within startrek.
    – Sponge Bob
    Apr 10, 2013 at 5:15
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    "Of course a doctor with a rank higher than Commander couldn't be on a ship because of command conflict" - This is not true. The officer in command is the Captain (even if he's not a rank Captain) and commands even if there is a higher ranked officer on board.
    – WOPR
    Apr 10, 2013 at 5:22
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    Not to mention that, at least in Star Trek canon, the Senior Medical Officer can already overrule the captain in cases of medicine: en.memory-alpha.org/wiki/…
    – deworde
    Apr 10, 2013 at 8:10

Well if Starfleet patterns its ranks after the US Navy, or Navies of the world, then having physician with the rank of Captain (Colonel), or even Admiral would not be too far. Since the Captain of a ship is a Naval Officer with Surface Warfare/Underseas Warfare experience, they would be the chief officers of the ship. Since McCoy would have risen to the rank of Captain, or even Admiral, he could serve as the overall Medical Officer in charge of a major medical Department, on board a much larger Starship. As for an Admiral, he could be assigned as the overall Medical Officer of a much larger parsec of space, and would have his own staff or floor that would have his own personal offices, or offices for his administrative staff, and his flag would be on that ship.

Now, if McCoy were the senior officer on board a Starship, and all of a sudden all of the senior officers were killed, he may be authorized to take command of the ship for a certain period of time, to get the ship and crew away from the danger. Then if the ship were now in StarFleet territory, he would probably return command to one of the junior officers, or even a senior Petty Officer.

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    In the modern military, "line officers" and "staff officers". Often times staff officers are not eligible for command, despite their high rank, and a lower-ranking, but specifically trained, line officer will command in this eventuality. But +1
    – The Fallen
    Apr 16, 2013 at 19:54

Because it seems that the writers based the Rate/Rank system in the show on the real U.S. Navy, it's entirely plausible to have a person who holds the captain(O-6 Rate) aboard who is not in overall command of the vessel. In fact, it's commonplace to have the Commanding officer of an Aircraft Carrier to be a Captain while the Executive officer is also a Captain. It's just that one is in command and the other is subordinate. Its the same thing all the way down the line.

I would imagine that Starfleet can, and does, work the same way.

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