54th Fighter Group pilots fly future flight surgeons

Holloman Air Force Base, N.M. --

Members from the 54th Fighter Group at Holloman Air Force Base, N.M., hosted students from the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, M.D., during the week of July 24, 2017.

The four students that visited Holloman are studying to become Air Force aerospace flight surgeons.

“There is a shortage of flight surgeons,” said Col. Tony Kim, Emergency Physician and Professor at USU. “The earlier we can have students exposed to flight medicine, the more students will become interested in filling this job.”

USU offers a summer operational experience, which happens for first-year medical students transitioning to their second year of medical school.

After the students attended a two-week basic initial flight surgeon training course at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, they started their two-week summer operational experience. Prior to Holloman, students spent the first week at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., for simulator training and classroom academics.

“It's imperative for flight surgeons to see exactly what it is like up in the air in an F-16,” said Capt. Zack Shapiro, 311th Fighter Squadron B-Flight commander. “There is very little research done on the effects of flying nine G's and what it does to the body over time.”

By flying with pilots and experiencing what they see every day, familiarization flights provide doctors with a better understanding of the physical and mental challenges pilots face, which ultimately allows them to provide better care for pilots.

“The sole reason I joined the Air Force was to become a flight surgeon,” said 2nd Lt. Taylor O’Neil, USU student. “Since I was interested in being a flight surgeon, I figured this would be a great opportunity for me so I put my name out there and I got lucky enough to come out here.”

By keeping in close contact with flight surgeons who have shared this experience, the hope is to treat issues before they become chronic and learn from empirical data in order to form a common practice for addressing F-16 pilots. Pilots have to maintain a sharp edge in the aircraft in order to fight and employ ordnance efficiently.

“We do not know the forces and the physiology that are at play unless we feel it,” said 2nd Lt. Nathaniel Ford, USU student. “At the same time, we cannot get Airmen to trust us unless they know that we know what they are going through.”

Being a flight surgeon is not just taking care of pilots, it is learning occupational exposures and how to protect the pilots and the maintainers and making sure their exposure is within standards.

“This is the tip of the spear,” O’Neil said. “These Airmen are a fighting force and this is what the Air Force is about, air superiority. Being able to experience that is pretty incredible and also helps us see what our role is in the big Air Force mission.”