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Life as a Flight Surgeon: What’s It Like?

Session 36

Life as a Flight Surgeon: What's It Like?

I’m a flight surgeon in the air force, and in today’s episode, Allison is going to interview me all about it. What is life like as a flight surgeon? And what’s the path I took to aerospace medicine? All that and more, coming up!

Note: Along with our interview, this episode features an announcement about the Academy at MSHQ, which is no longer open. We do offer premed advising, mock interviews, and related services, however. So check those out!

Listen to this podcast episode with the player above, or keep reading for the highlights and takeaway points.

What is a flight surgeon?

No, a flight surgeon does not operate on a plane. A flight surgeon is a family-practice doctor for a specific population of air force members, such as pilots, loadmasters, flight engineers, missile operators, space operators, drone pilots, air-traffic controllers, or anybody involved in the day-to-day operations in the air force.

As a flight surgeon, I’m the medical standards expert, and I makes sure we meet all the medical standards and everyone is able to continue doing their jobs. As a flight surgeon, I have an office (on the ground), but I’m also required to fly once a week to make sure my patients are safe doing what they do in the sky and to see what their stressors are, day in and day out.

As a flight surgeon, I'm the medical standards expert, and I makes sure we meet all the medical standards and everyone is able to continue doing their jobs.Click To Tweet

Taking a flight medicine course:

A flight medicine course allows you to learn how stressful it is to be in a cockpit and fly a plane. It allows you to appreciate the amount of stimuli in an airplane cockpit. Pilots face a lot of stimulation, and it’s important for a flight surgeon to have a sense of that.

My path to becoming a flight surgeon:

  • Wanting to be an orthopedic surgeon and going to medical school on the Health Professions Scholarship Program (HPSP) in the military
  • The military having control of my residency application
  • Applying to the military version of the match, cutting my postgrad education off, and going through 1-year residency training to become a flight surgeon
  • Differences in civilian medicine vs. military medicine
    • Thinking about the patients’ condition in terms of military service
    • No insurance difficulties (everyone in the military is insured)
What are the big differences between civilian medicine and military medicine?Click To Tweet

Some perks of being a flight surgeon:

  • Being called “sir” all day long
  • Saluting officers in higher ranks
  • Mutual respect and teamwork
  • Jumping in the plane as an aircrew member
One of the little perks of being a flight surgeon: being called 'sir' all day long.Click To Tweet

What I love about being a flight surgeon:

  • Community involvement
  • Unique patient population
    • Patients avoiding me because they love to work and desperately want to get better immediately

Some pieces of advice for premed students:

  • Look into the military for a possible job or career to pay for medical school.
  • Be flexible, and be willing to have a bit of adventure. Be willing to give up a little bit of control of your life.

[Want more information about aerospace medicine and being a flight surgeon? I actually did another interview about being a flight surgeon, which I published as Session 22 of the Specialty Stories podcast. So check that out for more!]

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