Aerospace medicine physicians, or flight surgeons, are highly trained medical professionals that provide preventive and comprehensive care to patients that work in, or are affected by, the aviation industry.

Watch an Overview of Aerospace Medicine

About Aerospace Medicine

Aerospace medicine is a subspecialty of occupational medicine devoted to the provision of medical care that encompasses the health, safety and performance of those heavily involved in air and space travel. The main purpose of aerospace medicine is to diagnose and prevent physiological responses and conditions arising out of air travel.

By adhering to aerospace medical principles, these physicians are able to confidently care for those in the field during preflight, in-flight and post-flight consultations. This may include the transport of patients during medical evacuation flights, where the injured party must be transported to a medical facility in order to receive the necessary urgent care in a given period of time. Aerospace physicians may be called upon for individual cases, or may be called upon for large-scale aviation disasters.

As a subspecialty of occupational medicine, emergency medicine and preventive medicine, aerospace medicine calls upon engineering, life support, physics and medicine to ensure that proper care is provided to those in the field of air travel. Aerospace medicine has remained at the forefront of clinical investigation, discovery and innovation since the early days of human space travel.

In conjunction with military medical reports, civilian aerospace medicine continues to reveal and uncover both medical and technological innovations that can be utilized across a variety of medical disciplines. More recently, advances in aviation and medicine have allowed even better management of patients throughout this medical specialty.

Aerospace Medicine Education & Training

Aerospace physicians, commonly referred to as flight surgeons or aviation doctors, must complete standard medical training before entering into a residency - that is, the completion of an MD or DO medical degree from an accredited institution. Following graduation from medical school, a one year internship is required that focuses on direct patient care. After completion of the internship, aerospace residency programs can branch out, depending upon the branch of military or specific civilian aerospace (or aviation) medicine program.

More recently, the American Board of Preventive Medicine has introduced a few changes to their aerospace medicine certification program. For example, the requirements for clinical experience have been increased, while the civilian requirement for a year’s study to earn a master’s degree has been removed; on the other hand, military programs still require the one year Master’s in Public Health degree, or an equivalent thereof. Nonetheless, training and educational requirements for aerospace physicians vary between each branch of the military, as well as within the civilian spectrum.

During residency training, the resident physician is introduced to the various facets of clinical occupational medicine that directly correlate to aerospace medicine. These include cardiology, orthopedics, psychiatry, women's health and pulmonology, among other areas. In conjunction with clinical training in these areas, residents are exposed to subspecialty rotations in areas specific to aviation medicine including internal medicine, neurology, aeromedical physical qualifications, and ophthalmology.