by Dr. Bill Blank, M.D., Senior AME
Published in Midwest Flyer – June/July 2020 issue
Do you know of a physician you think would make a good Aviation Medical Examiner (AME)? Have you thought about recruiting him/her?
There has been a gradual decline in the number of AMEs in recent years. Since 2008, nationally, the number has decreased by approximately 1,300 to 2,600 currently. Since 2011, in the Great Lakes Region alone, the number of AMEs has decreased from 520 to 347, and the last time I checked, some Midwest communities, such as Pierre, South Dakota and Lansing, Michigan, did not have any! Also, since 2003, the average age of AMEs has increased from 56 to 64. The FAA is aware of this decline and is starting to talk about the need to recruit, but has taken no action.
An AME needs to be a state-licensed physician, either an MD (Medical Doctor) or DO (Doctor of Osteopathy). Physicians Assistants (PAs) and Nurse Practitioners (NPs) are not allowed to be AMEs.
Specialty training is not required. Most AMEs, approximately 75%, are in family practice, general practice, internal medicine, or occupational health. There is a smattering of psychiatrists, ophthalmologists, and other specialists who are AMEs, either because of their interest in aviation or need in their local community, and some AMEs are or have been military flight surgeons.
When I first became an AME, many AMEs were pilots. This is no longer the case. As I lecture at the new AME training courses, I notice less pilots in the audience. To become an AME, the physician should write to the regional flight surgeon and express his or her interest. If the FAA finds a need for an additional AME in the area (I can’t imagine they wouldn’t now), the physician will be enrolled in one of the three or four annual 4 ½ day new AME basic science courses given at FAA headquarters in Oklahoma City.
An AME applicant who has been or is a military flight surgeon may not be required to take this course. There is no tuition for the course, but the applicant will be required to pay his/her expenses. The course counts toward a physician’s continuing medical education requirement.
After completion of the course, an FAA employee from the Regional Flight Surgeon’s office will visit the new AME’s office to make certain that he/she has the required equipment. The applicant will then be authorized to do second and third-class flight physicals.
An FAA employee will serve as a mentor to new AME and review their first exams. After the new AME has successfully been an AME for at least two (2) years, the AME can request designation as a “Senior AME.” This permits the AME to do first class physicals.
AMEs are required to perform 10 exams per year and retrain every three (3) years to maintain their designation. A few AMEs are full-time AMEs and perform thousands of exams annually.
We will continue to need conscientious AMEs to serve the pilot community and ensure that our pilots are fit to fly and our skies safe. Becoming an AME can be a nice addition to a medical practice and allow a physician to meet a group of interesting, motivated people and learn about the fascinating field of aviation. I hope you can help identify potential AMEs and encourage them to become involved in the aviation community!
Please contact me if you or a potential AME has any questions.
EDITOR’S NOTE: William A. Blank is a physician in La Crosse, Wisconsin, and has been an Aviation Medical Examiner (AME) since 1978, and a Senior AME since 1985.
Dr. Blank is a retired Ophthalmologist, but still gives some of the ophthalmology lectures at AME renewal seminars. Flying-wise, Dr. Blank holds an Airline Transport Pilot Certificate and has 5600 hours. He is a Certified Instrument Flight Instructor (CFII) and has given over 1200 hours of aerobatic instruction. In addition, Dr. Blank was an airshow performer through the 2014 season and held a Statement of Aerobatic Competency (SAC) since 1987.
DISCLAIMER: The information contained in this column is the expressed opinion of the author only, and readers are advised to seek the advice of others and refer to the Federal Aviation Regulations and FAA Aeronautical Information Manual for additional information and clarification.