What Is Aviation Medicine

Published on September 28, 2022 | Last Updated on October 21, 2022 by

Aviation medicine (also known as aerospace medicine) is a medicinal specialty that is concerned with the health and safety of humans in flight and is a rapidly expanding sphere of clinical medicine across the globe. With international travel becoming ever-more accessible and popular, the demand for aviation medical personnel for all types of airlines has grown exponentially.

The practice of aviation medicine entails combining the following aspects of clinical medicine:

  • Preventative Medicine
  • Occupational Medicine
  • Environmental Medicine
  • Physiology
  • Psychology

Combined, these aspects enable aeromedical personnel to minimize or eliminate potential risks relating to flight crews’ and passengers’ health and safety. In this article, we will take a deeper look into the sphere of aviation medicine and outline some of its requirements. So let’s get into aviation medicine, why you should consider it, and what it includes.

Purpose of Aerospace Medicine

Aerospace medicine aims to identify and prevent adverse responses encountered in the aerospace environment and includes aeromedical certification of aircrew and aeromedical transport specializations.

Trained aerospace medical personnel play a critical role in air ambulance operations and are involved in several areas of activity, including long-distance transport as well as local search and rescue missions.

They are also a vital resource to commercial airlines for passenger medical clearance or when someone becomes ill onboard.

In aeronautics, aerospace medical personnel are required to provide crucial advice on passenger safety, air circulation, and ergonomics, as well as any foreseen risks that may lead to health problems. Aerospace medical personnel are required to have an understanding of the physiological responses to the following:

  • Temperature
  • Pressure
  • Radiation
  • Vibration
  • Acceleration
  • Oxygen levels

Each factor contributing to safety in-flight has a failure rate, and it is the goal of aviation medical personnel to ensure that this rate is kept below a specified level in relation to the humans involved in the process by conducting aeromedical examinations.

Aerospace Medicine Education and Training

Aerospace physicians, also referred to as aviation doctors or flight surgeons, are required to complete standard medical training before entering into a residency and completing a yearlong internship focused on direct patient care. Thereafter, aerospace residency can branch out based on the specific military or civilian aerospace medicine program.

The American Board has made a few changes to Preventative Medicine in the last few years. The requirements for clinical experience have been increased, while civilian requirements for a master’s degree have been removed. However, military programs do still require a Master in Public Health degree to be considered.

During their residency training, physicians are exposed to numerous facets of clinical occupational medicine that have a direct correlation to aerospace medicine, such as cardiology, psychiatry, and women’s health, to name a few.

Pilot hat and stethoscope

What are AeroMedical Examinations?

AeroMedical examinations are the screening processes involved in identifying risks that may lead to total or partial incapacitation by humans during flight. This includes screening for:

  • Cardiac and related heart conditions
  • Metabolic conditions such as diabetes
  • Epileptic and other seizure-like conditions
  • Physical limitations such as injuries to limbs
  • Sight and related eye conditions such as color blindness

These specialized medical exams are generally performed by a Military Flight Surgeon or an Aviation Medical Examiner that is trained to screen aircrew and identify medical conditions that may lead to problems in performing their duties.

Types of risks

There are several things in the system that can fail during flight. Aerospace medical personnel are responsible for identifying those that are related to human intervention. This can be broken down into two types of failures:

Passive failures – These types of failures occur when something or someone stops working as it should but is not actively creating a greater issue. An example of this would be if a member of the flight crew passes out or loses consciousness due to a change in pressure during a flight.

Active failures – These types of failures occur when something or someone is still functioning but not in the prescribed manner, potentially leading to greater risks. An example of this is if a crew member begins hallucinating and acting on those hallucinations.

Fields of Aerospace Medicine

The term “Aerospace Medicine” is a broad one that is broken down into specializations in the same way as most medical fields. Below is a list of some of the most popular courses that those interested in the field opt for:

MD in Aerospace Medicine – This is a two-year program aimed at providing the individual with the knowledge required to maintain the optimum health of the aircrew and surrounding environment.

MD Aeromedical Retrieval and Transport – This is also a two-year program that is focused on advanced training in aerospace evacuation and retrieval medicine.

MD Health Science Endorsed in Aeromedical Retrieval and Transport – This is an extension of the above qualification but to a master’s degree level. This program involves the study of aeromedical transport and determines how a medical emergency is handled in flight.

Civil Aviation Medicine – This is a short-term course and provides the student with certified knowledge on how to perform an examination on cabin crew to determine if they are fit and able to handle airborne conditions.

MD Oral Health – Pressure changes during flights affect the human body in different ways. This course is designed to prepare the medical profession to tackle situations regarding oral-related problems in an in-flight environment.

MSc Aerospace Medicine – This advanced-level degree program involves an in-depth study of the practical and theoretical instructions in advanced aviation such as outer space travel.

Conclusion

Aviation or aerospace medicine is a crucial sphere of clinical medicine that is intended to focus on the clinical care, research, health and safety, performance of crewmembers and passengers, and the support personnel who assist in the operation of vehicles.

Aerospace Medicine physicians can be found around the world. As a discipline on its own, physicians and other aerospace medical personnel complete their training in this field in specialized facilities equipped to provide real-life training, generally provided by the military, airline companies, space agencies, and independent clinics for medical flight certification.

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