Flight surgeon

Flight surgeon

A flight surgeon is a military medical officer assigned to duties in the clinical field known as flight, or aviation medicine. Flight surgeons are medical or osteopathic doctors who are primarily responsible for the medical evaluation, certification and treatment of aviation personnel — e.g., pilots, aircrew members and air traffic controllers. They perform routine, periodic medical examinations ("flight physicals") of these personnel. In the U.S military, flight surgeons are trained to fill general public health and occupational and preventative medicine roles, and are only infrequently "surgeons" in an operating theater sense. Flight surgeons may also be called upon to provide medical consultation as members of an investigation board into an aviation mishap.

The position was co-created by the United States Army and the Surgeon General in the early 1900s, World War I era, underneath the US Army Air Corps. The original intent was for the military and the Surgeon General to understand what was causing the high flight mishap rate. Shortly after the appointment of the first flight surgeons, research and experience led to a dramatic improvement in aircrew health as well as a significant raising of the entry medical standards for all aircrew. The early flight surgeons found that the Army's practice of assigning officers to flight duty who were not physically qualified for infantry or cavalry duty was improper. Due to the G-forces, risk of spatial disorientation, and hypoxia encountered in the aviation environment, among other challenges, early flight surgeons found that aviation personnel must be scrupulously healthy and well trained in the basics of aerospace physiology. The role of flight surgeons continued to mature and expand as the U.S. faced WWII. The 1941 movie "Dive Bomber" highlighted the role of the flight surgeon during World War II, and demonstrated how solving the problems of hypoxia and g-forces improved the aircrews' war-fighting capability.

This position requires additional specialized training. It was created as distinct from other medical professionals in the armed forces because of the special, and often higher, minimum standards of fitness and physical requirements required by the extremely high responsibility positions of aviators and ancillary personnel. For example, some routine treatments, such as certain antihistamines, when administered to aviation personnel, are cause for temporary grounding (loss of flying privileges) until the therapy and its effects are completed.

Training varies depending on the branch of service. In the U.S. Air Force, most flight surgeons have received initial training in the form of the Aerospace Medicine Primary (AMP) course, an eight week training program that involves aeromedical topics as well as aircrew and survival training. Some flight surgeons ultimately move on to the Residency in Aerospace Medicine (RAM), a three year program involving a Master of Public Health, a year of aerospace medical training, and a year of either occupational or preventive medical training. Graduates of the RAM are eligible to be double-boarded in Aerospace Medicine and either Occupational or Preventive Medicine, and are generally assigned to supervise other flight surgeons or medical units. The RAM also involves Medical Officer Flight Familiarization Training (MOFFT), during which the flight surgeon receives abbreviated ground school and some basic pilot training. Consequently, a RAM has some actual piloting experience and some training toward initial qualification, although the rating of pilot is not awarded. In the U.S. Navy, initial flight surgeon training is significantly longer and involves a version of MOFFT, so that all Navy flight surgeons have some formal pilot training. Navy flight surgeons may also attend a three year RAM training program that is distinct from the Air Force program.

During World War II, General of the Army 'Hap' Arnold directed all flight surgeons in the U.S. Army Air Force to fly regularly with their patients in order to better understand the aviation environment. Consequently, in the U.S. military, flight surgeons are rated aircrew members who receive flight pay and who are required to fly a certain number of hours monthly.

The term "flight surgeon" comes from the era in which all military physicians were referred to as surgeons. Very few flight surgeons are actual general or specialized surgeons -- most are primary care physicians. However, many flight surgeons are general practitioners and have not completed residency training. The minimum requirement for training is for the physician to have completed medical school, completed a year of general internship (either medical or surgical), and to be licensed by a state medical board.

Due to the advanced training and education required to serve as a flight surgeon, many military services award a Flight Surgeon Badge to those so qualified. In the U.S. military, flight surgeons are rated aviation officers, along with pilots, astronauts, and navigators.

ee also

*Aviation Medical Examiner
*Aerospace Medicine Specialists
*Aviation medicine
*Military medicine

External links

* [http://flyingpilot.com/?p=28 Flying Pilot Podcast] - Podcast interview with an ex-USAF flight surgeon.

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