Flight Surgeons Ensure Airmen with Flying Duties, Robins Work Force Remain Healthy for Mission
Tuesday, January 12th, 2021
“The most challenging aspect of being a flight surgeon is that we are expected to be the ‘Swiss Army Knife’ for military medicine,” said Lt. Col. David Oldham, 78th Medical Group chief of Aerospace Medicine.
Lt. Col. David Oldham, 78th Medical Group chief of Aerospace Medicine, speaks with a patient during a wellness check at Robins Air Force Base, Georgia, Oct. 8, 2020. Oldham, one of four flight surgeons at Robins, is trained to evaluate the stresses associated with flight and how medical conditions might affect those on flying status while performing their duties. (U.S. Air Force photo by Rodney Speed)
Oldham, one of four flight surgeons at Robins Air Force Base, Georgia, said for that reason, those in his career field are knowledgeable in many areas.
“It is expected that we are at least familiar with all aspects of medicine and the interactions with health for those with special duties,” he said. “It is also expected that we have a working knowledge of public health, bioenvironmental issues, occupational medicine, preventive medicine and how these integrate with the line side of the military.”
Despite the title, flight “surgeon,” Oldham said he does not perform surgery or surgical procedures while in flight.
“The term originated during World War I when physicians began to help with the medical screening for aviators and the term has stuck ever since,” he said.
There is no such thing as a typical work day for this flight surgeon, Oldham said.
“As a flight surgeon, we are directed to spend 50% of our time outside of a normal physician’s clinic,” he said. “This includes flying, shop visits, providing briefings to units, and several other duties not typical of regular medical providers.”
Lt. David Oldham, 78th Medical Group chief of Aerospace Medicine, stands in front of an E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System aircraft at Robins Air Force Base, Georgia, Nov. 10, 2020. Oldham is one of four flight surgeons at Robins responsible for the medical care of service members with flying duties; as such, he spends at least 50% of his duty hours on the flight line with the personnel. (U.S. Air Force photo by Rodney Speed)
Oldham performs a myriad of duties that work together to keep Airmen healthy and safe for the mission.
“A typical flight surgeon will perform physical examinations and make recommendations for aviators in the Air Force,” he said. “This includes not only pilots, but all individuals who perform flying duties. We are trained to evaluate the various stresses associated with flight and how medical conditions might affect an aviator while performing their duties.”
In addition to caring for those with flying duties, flight surgeons are also required to perform shop visits throughout the base to ensure safety of at risk workers.
Though flight surgeons are not pilots, Oldham said they are considered rated officers and are required to participate in regular flights with the crew.
While the majority of a flight surgeon’s time is spent supporting aviators at Robins, the flight surgeon mission touches all Robins mission partners, Oldham said.
“We oversee all the work restrictions and retention standards for active duty members,” he said. “We are also medical consultants for the wing and work with public health on making base wide health recommendations.”
Although the career field has its challenges, Oldham said it’s all worth it.
“The most rewarding part of being a flight surgeon is being able to be a physician, something I love, but also being able to integrate with the line-side mission of the Air Force,” he said. “I love being the liaison of sorts between those on the flight line and medical, and how that translates into furthering the Air Force’s goal to Fly-Fight-Win.”