SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, Germany --
The Flight Medicine clinic’s name may seem misleading since it suggests that pilots may have their own clinic or get special treatment. However, the clinic does more than take care of those who fly.
“Ironically, Flight Medicine and what we do is sometimes misunderstood,” said U.S. Air Force Capt. Alexander Haley, 52nd Aerospace Medicine Squadron, flight surgeon. “I think it’s a frequent assumption that we’re just concierge doctors for pilots and that’s it.”
There are two separate clinics on base because of their individual roles and responsibilities.
“Flight Medicine and Family Medicine are separate because they have different missions and serve different patient populations,” said Haley. “Family Medicine acts as Primary Care Managers for non-special duty personnel and their dependents, as well as retirees in the local area. Flight Medicine generally addresses Occupational Medicine, or understanding how your job affects your body, and concerns all members on base.”
Since the two clinics have separate missions and focuses, the career fields in Flight Medicine are varied.
“The clinic is staffed by physicians called ‘flight surgeons’ who, funny enough, do not do surgery,” said Maj. Stedven Feliciano, 52nd AMDS Flight and Missile Medicine flight commander.
Feliciano also stated the clinic houses physician assistants, flight nurses, independent-duty medical technicians, medical technicians some with specialized training, and medical-administration technicians.
The Flight Medicine staff is responsible for patients ranging from pilots to security forces and their dependents.
Haley said that the special-duty personnel that Flight Medicine is responsible for comprise of all aircrew, air traffic controllers, missile operators, special warfare Airmen, and Personnel Reliability Assurance Program personnel. Flight Medicine is also involved with certain administrative processes for all members on the base.
The Flight Medicine clinic is broken into two major areas of focus: the Flight and Operational Medicine Clinic and the Base Operational Medicine Clinic.
“The FOMC cell is responsible for much of the traditional operations of a Flight Medicine clinic: acute and routine primary care for special-duty personnel and their families, responding to ground or in-flight emergencies on the flightline, mass-casualty and disaster or mishap response, evaluation and treatment of occupational exposures, and industrial or food safety inspections,” said Haley.
FOMC focuses on the customary clinical work one might see during a routine doctor’s appointment while BOMC has more unique characteristics.
“Under BOMC, we are tasked with additional duties, such as special duty, pre-employment, flight physicals, deployments, permanent change of station, and overseas clearances,” said Feliciano. “We also monitor profiles for fitness, duty, and mobility restrictions. If exposed to chemicals, dangerous conditions, or other work hazards while working on base, we would see you in the clinic and assess you for occupational health exposures and risk. While Public Health oversees individual medical readiness, we monitor the clinical aspects of the preventive health assessment to ensure immediate concerns are addressed and the mental health assessment is completed.”
FOMC and BOMC are part of most Flight Medicine clinics, but a few bases, including Spangdahlem Air Base, have a third main focus: PRAP.
“PRAP is responsible for administering the medical PRAP program, which involves overseeing our strict medical standards for sensitive-duty positions and continuous monitoring of personnel entrusted with these responsibilities,” said Haley. “Also included in this category are our Security Forces defenders, who are authorized to use lethal force in extreme circumstances while performing their official duties.”
The Flight Medicine clinic staff do not only work in the clinic, but they visit different shops and offices around base and support 18 geographically separated locations across U.S. Air Forces in Europe.
“Flight surgeons are tasked with many additional duties outside the clinic such as helping with food and occupational safety inspections to ensure Air Force health and safety standards are met and upheld,” said Feliciano. “They are also required to log flying hours so they are able to assess first-hand the flight conditions and physiologic stressors in which our flyers are exposed to on a daily basis.”
With the many roles and responsibilities that Flight Medicine has, they help meet the 52nd Fighter Wing’s priorities.
“We support the command’s European Deterrence Initiative by being the base of medical operations for all medical support to the PRAP,” said Feliciano. “IDMTs stationed at remote sites receive support from our Flight Medicine team around the clock. We also support initiatives such as Agile Combat Employment by ensuring a deployment-ready force through profiling and deployment clearances. Finally, our medical team supports Integrated Base Defense by providing care to the flyers in support of USAFE’s only Suppressions of Enemy Air Defenses mission.”
Haley said Flight Medicine is a medical jack of all trades, but even with the many different aspects of operations, the patients continue to be the top priority.
“It can be pretty challenging at times, but it’s a real privilege to get to know and care for those who are out there executing the mission,” said Haley. “Our patients understand that we don’t take these responsibilities lightly, that we’re really dedicated to supporting our patients and the mission the best we can. We’re always looking for ways to do better.”