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How Do I Become a Flight Surgeon?

Dan Harkins
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Flight surgeons are employed by three of the five U.S. military branches — the Army, Navy and Air Force — and are known as aviation medical examiners in the civilian sphere. Many other countries utilize these health professionals as well, for ensuring pilot health, safety and well-being. If you want to become a flight surgeon, you will need to obtain a medical degree, a fair level of physical fitness, and an officer's commission.

To become a flight surgeon, you must first endure a long road of preparative training and obtain a medical doctorate (MD) or a doctorate of osteopathic medicine (DO). This normally takes about six to eight years of college coursework and hospital residency. If not yet attained, U.S. citizenship must be obtained by graduation if you intend to become a flight surgeon.

Once graduated, candidates can focus their efforts on a particular branch of service, if they have not already done so. Some who want to become a flight surgeon choose to enter a certain branch's Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) program while still training to become a doctor. In this way, they are ready to enlist and obtain special flight surgeon training as soon as they graduate and become certifies as a doctor. Others choose to enter a certain branch of service after graduating. These candidates must first attend that branch's officer training school before flight surgeon training can begin.

Each branch of service utilizes its flight surgeons in slightly different ways, so the schooling is different for each. The U.S. Army's flight surgeons are focused on that branch's helicopter pilots as well as their crews and families. The U.S. Navy flight surgeons deal mostly with carrier-based airplane pilots and crew. In the Air Force, entry-level flight surgeons may be involved with flight crews on base before advancing to a higher level of service, such as in aerospace medicine with NASA. Each branch's training ranges from introductory courses of about two months to three-year programs in advanced care procedures.

The term "flight surgeon" would only apply in wartime or after accidents, when he or she would be called upon to treat and even operate on the sick and wounded during transport by air. Each branch of service requires that its flight surgeons actually fly every once in a while, even though most of their time is spent in a clinic on base. Other common requirements for becoming a flight surgeon are a security clearance and the ability to pass a military fitness test.

These aviation medicine specialists who have been used since the dawn of military aviation in the beginning of the 20th century to gauge and protect the health of pilots and flight crews. Performing regular flight physicals is a fundamental responsibility of this type of physician. Aviation medical examiners are licensed by the Federal Aviation Administration to perform this duty in the civilian realm.

Practical Adult Insights is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Dan Harkins
By Dan Harkins , Former Writer
Dan Harkins, a former military professional, brings his diverse life experiences to his writing. After earning his journalism degree, he spent more than two decades honing his craft as a writer and editor for various publications. Dan’s debut novel showcases his storytelling skills and unique perspective by drawing readers into the story’s captivating narrative.

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Dan Harkins

Dan Harkins

Former Writer

Dan Harkins, a former military professional, brings his diverse life experiences to his writing. After earning his...
Learn more
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