Physicians perform many functions in our society. One of the tasks physicians perform that almost everyone knows about is the care of the ill and injured patient. But physicians also perform other functions. They take care of patients that are neither ill nor injured. These are individuals in our society that perform critical functions necessary for economy and society.
One such example is the Federal Aviation Medical Examiner (FAA AME). Under the Federal Aviation Act of 1958 the FAA administrator is authorized to delegate to qualified private physicians the conduct of medical examinations and the issuance of medical certificates to qualified applicants. Aviation Medical Examiners are private physicians, trained and authorized by the FAA to perform airmen medical examinations and issue medical certificates.
The FAA has approximately 5,400 civilian AMEs in the United States and approximately 350 AMEs in 81 countries around the world. In addition, there are another 500 AMEs in the military, US Coast Guard, NASA, and other federal agencies. These AMEs perform approximately 480,000 medical examinations every year fulfilling the aeromedical certification needs of about 17,000 air traffic controllers and 640,000 pilots in the United States and abroad.
Aviation medical examiners are a key element in the medical certification process ensuring that pilots and airmen meet the medical standards prescribed by the FAA and are medically fit to perform safety-related duties and operate aircraft. These physicians play a vital role to promote aviation safety through excellence in aeromedical certification of pilots. Some Aviation Medical Examiners act as consultants to the FAA in their medical specialties such as cardiology, ophthalmology, pulmonary medicine, neurology, and psychiatry. They participate in the review of medical certification cases that might qualify these pilots for special waivers.
These physicians are involved in giving lectures on medical subjects and participate in aviation safety seminars for pilots delivering presentations on aeromedical issues that have an impact on aviation safety. Some of these physicians are called upon to assist in the investigation of people and general aviation accidents. These doctors also act as consultants to determine whether the acutely ill or incapacitated patient can safely be transported by air.
Most physicians that are FAA AMEs are family medicine and internal medicine specialists, but they can also be general surgeons, ophthalmologists, and aerospace medicine specialists. Many of these physicians are also pilots themselves and are very familiar with the demanding nature of the aviation environment. The aviation environment and airspace is extremely complex and it is crucial that all pilots be medically qualified to perform these complex and demanding duties.
Since the early days of aviation in 1920s, physicians have been involved in making flying and aviation safe for pilots and the general public.
Sergio B. Seoane, M.D.
FAA Aviation Medical Examiner