What is a Flight Physician?

A flight physician is a physician/doctor trained as a D.O. or M.D. who operates onboard medical aircraft.

These specialists provide emergency aeromedical care to patients suffering from trauma, illness, or life-threatening emergencies.

Flight physicians are responsible for facilitating proper patient care, assessing their medical condition, administering medications, and performing necessary surgery.

They also provide patients with a comfortable experience, ensuring their safety while being transferred to the hospital.

Flight physicians’ training and education allow them to provide emergency medical and surgical care when necessary.

What Do Flight Physicians Do?

Flight physicians perform numerous duties to ensure patient safety and supervision.

These medical professionals provide emergency care when a patient is ill or critically injured to stabilize their condition.

They’ll assess the patient’s situation, administer treatments and perform emergency surgeries. 

In addition, they monitor vitals during transit, collaborate with registered nurses, and coordinate with hospital staff to ensure adequate care when the patient arrives at the facility.

Flight physicians must understand how to treat various medical conditions and utilize medical equipment.

As a result, they regularly train and educate themselves on the latest procedures and medical technologies.

They must also maintain the physical agility and expertise to care for ill/injured patients during transportation.

Work Duties Include:

  • Provide on-site medical care
  • Monitor patient vitals
  • Assess and diagnose conditions
  • Deliver intensive treatments
  • Perform emergency surgery
  • Utilize diverse medical equipment
  • Ensure patient safety during transportation

Where Do Flight Physicians Work

The environment for flight physicians is generally high-paced.

As a result, they must be able to work in unstable, time-sensitive, and high-pressure situations.

Flight physicians are utilized during emergencies when ground vehicles cannot provide care in an appropriate period.

These medical professionals travel to small and large-scale emergencies requiring medical care for multiple patients.

For instance, they’ll journey to natural disasters, significant car accidents, mass casualty events, and other scenarios.

They’ll also commute over non-traversable terrain, cruise ships, off-site facilities, and areas unreachable by an ambulance.

Medical care is provided on-site and inside the aeromedical vehicle.

As a result, flight physicians must understand how to properly and effectively utilize their limited space.

Working from a helicopter restricts movement, available medical space, and room for numerous patients.

Therefore, these medical professionals receive extensive training to ensure they adequately use every inch of the vehicle.

Understanding each other’s roles is also necessary because the flight physician, flight nurse, pilot, and patient take up vital space.

Finally, awareness of where various medical equipment is and how it functions is critical for ensuring timely and effective patient care.


Flight physicians operate on a variety of fixed-wing aircraft.

It includes jet airplanes designed to transfer patients from one hospital or healthcare facility to another and propeller aircraft like helicopters, which land in various environments such as at the scene of a car accident, near mountainous terrain, or in locations where ground travel is difficult.

Each aircraft provides specific functionality to accommodate the aeromedical flight crew depending on their needs and the medical emergency.

The aircraft and onboard equipment that flight physicians utilize vary based on the country’s guidelines and requirements.

Flight Crew

A standard crew for flight physicians includes a physician, a registered nurse, and a pilot.

Each member is essential in ensuring patients’ safety and well-being on-site and while being transported.

Firstly, we have the flight physician who acts as the leader in providing medical care.

Their expertise allows them to diagnose conditions, perform emergency surgeries and conduct other invasive procedures.

The flight nurse accompanies the physician to provide backup support during aeromedical operations.

They also focus on non-invasive medical tasks they can handle without the physician’s supervision or intervention.

It allows the physician to focus on more essential tasks when managing numerous patients.

Finally, the pilot flies the aircraft and keeps the crew and patients safe.

They’re responsible for getting the physician and registered nurse to the emergency site as quickly as possible.

They may also assist the physician and nurse with particular tasks.

This integrated critical care unit utilizes a physician-nurse-pilot model.

Nonetheless, different counties like North America employ distinctive aeromedical models to deliver patient care.

On-Call Lifestyle

In many cases, flight physicians are on call.

As a result, they must be ready to go when an emergency arises.

Being on call is not for all medical professionals.

However, it’s essential for this profession because flight physicians and flight nurses are the first responders to medical emergencies.

Their expertise is vital to keeping patients alive, stable, and safe during transportation until they reach a hospital for advanced care.

Education Requirements

Flight physicians spend countless hours developing expertise as medical doctors before operating for aeromedical units.

As a result, these professionals achieve exceptional education and experience.

Many flight physicians have worked in critical care facilities for years performing emergency surgeries and operations.

It allows them to develop a deep understanding of medicine, physiology, anatomy, and underlying diseases.

Thus, they can accurately assess patients’ conditions and provide necessary care and treatment to stabilize their situation.

In addition to medical expertise, flight physicians develop practical communication and multitasking skills.

It ensures hospital staff understands the patient’s needs when they arrive at the hospital/emergency care facility.

Certification Requirements:

  • Board-certified or board eligible
  • Advanced cardiac life support
  • Advanced trauma life support
  • Pediatric and Neonatal Certifications (specializing in child care)
  • Advanced pediatric life support
  • Advanced neonatal life support

Certification requirements vary depending on the flight physician’s specialization.

For instance, flight nurses providing care to neonatal patients must receive advanced neonatal life support certification.

It ensures they can adequately assess and treat infants requiring emergency care.

Nevertheless, certification conditions for flight physicians vary depending on the institution, specialization, and country.

Existing flight physicians must undergo continuous education, demonstrate their ability to perform necessary physical activities, and regularly meet state/facility standards.

Finally, flight physicians must demonstrate their knowledge, expertise, and proficiency in transporting critically ill patients.

What About Flight Surgeons

Flight surgeons work for the military and have specific duties related to medical care in the clinical field.

These professionals operate as medical officers evaluating and treating military personnel onboard various military aircraft.

In addition to treating injured military personnel, flight surgeons may also perform standard medical care.

It includes basic medical aid, providing healthcare advice, and conducting routine medical examinations to ensure patients are in good health.

That way, they can complete the job functions appropriately and effectively.

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