Last weekend, I attended a medical seminar held by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in Denver, CO. The seminar was a refresher training seminar for Aviation Medical Examiners (AME). Although I had not yet been designated an AME, my experience and training as a USAF flight surgeon allowed me to become an AME without attending the traditional introductory training course at the FAA Headquarters in Oklahoma City, OK.
The Aviation Medical Examiner (AME)
Maybe you have no clue what an AME is or does. Here’s a quick summary.
Aviation Medical Examiners are licensed medical physicians (either MD or DO) that are designated by the FAA and therefore permitted to issue medical certificates to civilian pilots after performing a thorough flight physical examination and review of the pilot’s medical history.
A newly trained doctor is designated an AME. After 3 years experience and accomplishing a specific minimum number of examinations, a standard AME can apply to be designated a ‘Senior AME’ by the FAA. Once recognized as a senior AME, first class physicals can be performed for commercial pilots. Prior to this designation, only 2nd and 3rd class exams may be performed. Below is a brief explanation of the three classes of airman certification categories that exist for civilian aviators:
- First-Class: Airline Transport Pilot
- Second-Class: Commercial Pilot; Flight Engineer; Flight Navigator; or
Air Traffic Control Tower Operator. (Note: This category of air traffic controller does not include FAA employee air traffic control specialists)
- Third-Class: Private Pilot, Recreational Pilot, or Student Pilot
How to Become an AME
The FAA has divided the territories of the United States into 9 geographic regions and then added a 10th administrative division to represent all military, official, and international members. Although the FAA attempts to maintain a specific ratio of approximately 150 pilots to every AME in a geographic location, there is a growing need for young physicians to serve as Aviation Medical Examiners. Doctors with previous experience as military flight surgeons are ideally positioned to take on this additional responsibility given their robust background in aerospace medicine.
The statistics tracked by the FAA demonstrate some worrisome trends among the current demographics of AME’s. The average age of an AME in the United States is almost 60 years old. And only 10% of the 3,000+ FAA flight docs are female. In order to ensure that pilots are ‘fit to fly’ and keep the skies safe for decades to come, the FAA needs to incentivize younger physicians to attend the training to become designated. As more females pursue careers or hobbies in aviation, they may feel more comfortable seeing a physician of their own gender for the aviation medical certificate. More women need to pursue this designation and serve the sphere of aviation in this way.
According to the FAA website describing the required training to become an AME:
“As a requirement for designation, an AME applicant must first complete a 4 1/2-day Basic AME Seminar. The Basic AME seminars are conducted four times a year at the FAA Civil Aerospace Medical Institute (CAMI) in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma…the Basic AME Seminar as a continuing medical education (CME) activity that is valid for 32.5 credit hours in Category I of the Physician’s Recognition Award of the American Medical Association. The FAA does not charge a fee for those attending the Basic AME Seminar. However, applicants must pay all personal expenses (travel, accommodations, and meals) associated with their training.”
If you have previous recent experience as a military flight surgeon, you will not require quite as much training. Instead, you should contact the FAA representative in the administrative geographic region where you are located. Check out the FAA website above for phone numbers.
Need an AME?
If you are a pilot (or aspiring student pilot) located in the FAA Northwest Region or more specifically the state of Utah and looking for an aviation medical examiner, feel free to message me using the Contact Us page. I anticipate being a fully designated Aviation Medical Examiner by the FAA within the next month or so!
For more information on how to get medically qualified to become a pilot, you can reference the FAA website here.