Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional, nor do I play one on TV. The information herein is not medical advice or guidance.
Since this month my 1st class medical is due again, I went to the Doctor’s office like I have done for the last 26 years.
Over those years I have gone to a variety of great doctors for my flight physicals.
Thankfully there has never been a problem found, as my livelihood depends on my ability to retain my medical.
We don’t often give it that much thought, but there is a good deal of pressure to not find yourself on the wrong side of a medical denial. That’s not just an issue for pro pilots; no one wants to have flying stripped away from them.
I read an article a few years ago that statistically showed that pilots, on the whole, lived shorter than average lives. This seems counterintuitive at first. We get frequent exams and we try to take care of ourselves knowing what’s at stake.
Of course this wasn’t due to crashes, like a layman might expect. One theory was the lifestyle; alcoholism and drug abuse at one time plagued our industry so that is certainly a plausible theory. Another theory is the sleep deprivation and disruption of circadian rhythms that often occur with career pilots. Lastly, we are exposed to more radiation than the general population and although the amounts are low it is measurable.
Let me introduce a more esoteric idea that is actually very simple human behavior.
As a pilot by nature you are less likely to go to a medical professional than the average population. Why? Because as we stated, keeping our medicals becomes an overriding priority.
So the law of unintended consequences starts to come into play. Since you aren’t going to disclose little things, they generally become big things before we seek help; early diagnosis goes out the window, sometimes beyond the point of no return.
So the system creates an environment that generally degrades our health; makes sense right? Not really.
What can you do? There are services out there that allow you to get medical help and provide maximum protection for your medical. These programs have really changed how a lot of pilots approach their health, with great results.
One such program is through a company called AMAS , Aviation Medical Advisory Service. Another is through AOPA’s voluntary medical program called Pilot Protection Services (it’s a legal and medical plan combined).
It is not the FAA’s job or responsibility to keep us healthy; if we rely on them we are going to need a big dose of luck.
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