So, you've caught the flying bug. If you are new to the FAA medical exam process or even if you've had one previously, I hope to impart some tips that will hopefully make your first or next FAA medical examination as uneventful as possible.
It may help by first explaining what an FAA Aviation Medical Examiner (AME) is and is not. We are not your doctor. We do not provide treatment nor manage any of your health conditions. Ideally, we will not be the first doctor to discover that you have uncontrolled hypertension, diabetes, or cataracts. If we are, and we are trained to look for these conditions, I can assure that you will not be leaving the office with a medical certificate (which is your goal!). Flying is a high risk activity. It only makes sense that we want to be as certain as we can that your health will not be a barrier to performing flight operations.
The role of the AME is to review the medical history provided by the pilot, conduct a complete physical exam plus any required testing such as EKGs or audiometry, and determine if the pilot meets the criteria established by the FAA. It is important to realize that your AME does not determine if you are eligible to fly, the FAA does. Fortunately, what is required for many medical conditions is clearly outlined by the FAA and can be found on their website under medical certification. The bulk of supporting documentation is going to come from your own healthcare provider and needs to be done in a time-sensitive manner, typically the past 60-90 days.
There may be value in obtaining an aeromedical consultation to help determine what is going to be required of your personal physician so that they can provide the information needed by the FAA in the most organized, concise, format possible without missing items. In many cases, your AME may even provide specific forms for your personal physician to complete making the job far easier. It is then best to meet with your personal physician about 60 days before you plan to schedule your FAA medical exam so that all of the required documentation can be completed prior to your FAA exam.
Aeromedical consults are also a good way to determine if your health problems would prohibit you from flying. A single consult may be a good way to save far more money down the line. Ground school, CFI fees and flight time adds up quickly. I've seen some very ambitious flight students nearly ready to solo having spent thousands of dollars on flight training only to hit a dead end on their medical exam due to a required med or disqualifying medical condition.
In the coming weeks and months, I will do a deeper dive into some of the more common health conditions that we certify as AMEs and how you can best prepare for your next exam in conjunction with your personal physician.