News & Features — 28 October 2016 at 11:20 am

Aviation and Space Medicine Training

Bonnie Posselt / Specialty Registrar in Aviation and Space Medicine / Royal Air Force

It’s job application time again. As you know we at Adventure Medic love anyone who has taken the road less traveled, except in this instance she took the runway: we speak to Bonnie Posselt, the UK’s new Aviation and Space Medicine Trainee about the specialty.

Congratulations on becoming ‘the trainee’ in Aviation and Space Medicine! Tell us how you got here.

I’ve always been fascinated with flying and very much enjoyed flying in a small propeller aircraft with the University Air Squadron. I took an extra year out for an intercalated degree in Aerospace Physiology, run at King’s College London and this really opened to my eyes to the specialty. I presented my dissertation research in the form of a poster at the Aerospace Medical Association annual conference, in Alaska, winning the Young Person Investigator prize.

On graduating, I did my Foundation Training in Birmingham with the RAF and went on to complete my Military Officer training at RAF Cranwell. I decided on the three-year ACCS programme, always with the aim of carrying on with Aviation Medicine. I was extremely lucky that by the time I had finished physician training, the specialty had just been recognised and the RAF were willing to support my training.

Aviation medicine has always existed, but specialty recognition now means a formalised training programme in line with all the other traditional specialties.

Please tell us more about the programme.

“Aviation and Space Medicine is the study of all factors affecting the human body in flight, in health as well as sickness and the means by which those flying may be protected against the potentially harmful effects of their abnormal environment. Consultants in the speciality will act as an expert on the medical aspects of aviation.”

Aviation and Space Medicine Curriculum

There is a set curriculum and like all other specialties I will need to provide evidence that I have achieved those competencies. Areas covered include understanding the unique aviation and space working environments and how it affects human physiology, as well as the equipment that can be used to protect against certain hazards. I will undertake training in the hypobaric chambers, the centrifuge and the disorientation simulator. Placements will be split between the Centre of Aviation Medicine at RAF Henlow, aeromedical centres, regulation authorities and the European Space Agency. Other areas include protective equipment integration and accident investigation. I love how it covers all aspects of medicine, but in an extreme environment.

How long is the training?

The curriculum is competency based, so time in training can be slightly flexible. However, a four year training programme will be considered the average length, with additional research (MD or PhD) being highly desirable.

Are there exams?

The Diploma of Aviation Medicine (DAvMed) will be incorporated into the training. This is a six-month course run by King’s College London, with a series of exams at the end administered by the Faculty of Occupational Medicine. The Diploma gives the trainee a sound grounding in basic science with an emphasis on human physiology. Currently these are also considered the ‘exit exams’, but I think there will be a move towards additional exams at the end of training.

What are the entry requirements?

Completion of Foundation Training followed by either Core Medical Training (CMT) or Acute Care Common Stem (ACCS) in Acute Medicine and the Membership of the Royal of Physicians (MRCP) exam. Doctors who have taken alternative pathway such as General Practice or Core Anaesthetics will also be eligible to apply but will need to undertake a ’Training Needs Analysis’ to ensure that their competencies will be of an equivalent level.
Doctors will then undergo selection into the specialty using a nationally-agreed Person Specification.

Do you have any advice for those wanting to apply?

Aviation Medicine is a small specialty, but a fantastic and supportive community. It is different from other specialties in that it is not NHS funded, so you need to have a sponsor to support you through your training. This can be the military, or any company that would require a consultant, such as the airlines or regulatory authorities.

As such there will only be a small cadre of personnel and recruitment into higher training every few years. However, this may increase with the recognition of the new specialty and I know that the CAA have been recently advertising in the BMJ for applicants. It would be a question of talking to the people within the specialty, making connections, promoting your interest and keeping your ear to the ground about applications.

For anybody interested, I would also advise coming to the Royal Aeronautical Society Evening Lectures, many of which are free and great opportunities to meet people from the industry. In particular, the Annual Aeromedical Conference, held in their London headquarters at the beginning of March.

If you would like to contact Bonnie, please do so using her Twitter handle @bonposselt. She will also be speaking about the speciality at an upcoming Space Medicine conference, run by Kevin Fong at the Institute of Sport, Exercise and Health on 19 November 2016.