Flight docs keep pilots soaring

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Siuta B. Ika
  • 49th Wing Public Affairs
In hospitals and health clinics around the country, doctors treat patients for everything from injuries to the common cold. To recognize their dedication and service 24/7, March 30 is "Doctor's Day" in the United States.

At Holloman, one group of doctors sees patients for the same reasons, after spending the day in the cockpit of an F-4 Phantom, T-38 Talon, or UH-1 Iroquois.

"As a flight surgeon you're, in many ways, the medical group's connection with the operational side of the base's mission," said Capt. (Dr.) Oliver Edwards, 7th Fighter Squadron flight surgeon. "Basically flight surgeons are doctors that get attached to a particular flying squadron and can deploy with the squadron. I see anyone who is on flying status to make sure their health is in good order and that they're meeting the regulations to do their jobs."

Although flight surgeons routinely perform medical examinations in the clinic, one of their more enjoyable duties is completed in the air, Edwards said.

"We fly regularly with the pilots here in order to better understand what altitude or any other stressor might do to the body during flight," he said. "It's nice here at Holloman because there are a lot of different airframes that we can fly in. Personally, I've flown in nine different aircraft including the T-38, F-4 and UH-1."

Their duties are not limited to the clinic or the airspace. Flight surgeons also perform different public and occupational health inspections at different units around the base, partake in field treatment teams, and should the need arise, respond to all aircraft incidents on base.

In order to handle their many tasks, constant training is a must, Edwards said.

"After med school, internship, and aerospace medicine primary course, you have to attend a (Survival, Escape, Resistance, Evasion) course and go on a lot of different (temporary duties)," he said. "There's the mishap course, global medicine, trauma response, and first aid response courses as well."

Because of all their training, Edwards understands the importance of the role he plays.

"I could see up to 80 patients in a week, and when they come in to flight medicine, they're really putting their trust in you because you can ground these guys and they can lose their career depending on their medical issue," Edwards said. "You have to develop that trust with them so they know they can depend on you to do the job right."

Flight surgeons are also integral to many other unit's missions, said Col. (Dr.) Leigh Swanson, acting 49th Medical Group commander and head flight surgeon on base.

"Flight surgeons are responsible for the medical clearance for all flyers, space and missile operators, air traffic controllers, and tactical air control parties, plus all the occupational exams for the firefighters, maintainers, civil engineers, and security forces personnel," she said. "Without flight surgeons, it would be difficult for Holloman to continue all of its varied missions."

Because of their responsibilities, accomplishing their mission can be difficult at times.

"I've been here for four years, and the most docs we've had is four-and that's about 50 percent manned," Edwards said. "We work a lot of extra hours and are constantly juggling many different tasks at once."

Even though difficult, flight surgeons definitely have one of the more unique medical jobs.

"I have a lot of memorable experiences both flying with guys and just being a part of the unit," Edwards said. "That's the fun part that you don't really get to do on the outside. I always wanted to serve my country in the military, but I definitely wanted to be a doctor and have fun, so this has been a perfect fit."