An otherwise healthy patient seeks medical care after experiencing nasal congestion, cough, sinus pressure and malaise – a patient seen often during every winter season. Most of the time, the patient will be prescribed with cold medicine to help the patient clear some of their nasal congestion and help them sleep. But what happens if the patient turns out to be an Army Blackhawk pilot? What medications can they safely take – and should they fly at all?
Army Flight Surgeons, likely Captain Mark Liao, MD (IUSM [Department of] Emergency Medicine EMS Faculty) are responsible for the health of military aviators which include pilots, crew chiefs, flight medics and door gunners. Additionally, they are responsible for providing medical direction to assigned aeromedical evacuation aircraft (colloquially known in the Army as “MEDEVAC” or “Dustoff”). US Army Flight Surgeon Training requires six weeks of didactics at Fort Rucker, Alabama and includes education on aviation physiology, occupational health, flight theory, spatial disorientation, aircrew coordination and aviation accident investigation. This training, above all, emphasizes aviator safety: meaning that the Pilot mentioned earlier cannot take medications which may cause drowsiness or induce confusion.
“The Flight Surgeon mission is of great relevance to Emergency Medicine physicians, because of the parallels of being both a front line medical provider and a prehospital medical director,” Dr. Liao notes. He added: “IUSM [Department of] Emergency Medicine has always supported my decision to join the military, for which I am very grateful for. It is an honor to serve such motivated Soldiers in the US Army.” He is currently deployed in the Middle East with the US Army to support Operation Inherent Resolve.
Written by Dr. Mark Liao, Assistant Professor of Clinical Emergency Medicine