UTMB Aerospace Medicine Residency FAQ

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What is aerospace medicine?

Aerospace Medicine (AM) is a sub-specialty of Preventive Medicine. AM focuses on the
health of individuals, communities and populations, enhancing health and human
performance and preventing disease. We work with airline pilots, astronauts, commercial
spaceflight participants, private pilots, commercial pilots and operational crews performing
their duties from undersea to space. We respond to disasters and aviation mishaps; we test
for and reduce worker occupational hazard exposures (lead, benzene, etc.). We advise
airlines and medevac companies on safe air transport. We create medical standards for crew
selection, retention and fitness for duty. We conduct research on risk, human performance,
life support equipment and cockpit design. We deploy to austere environments to support
our population. It’s the best job you’ll ever have.

What is the residency like? What makes UTMB unique? How long has the residency been
around?

The first year of the residency is mainly spent earning the MPH degree. There is also four
months of clinical time (including an aviation medical examiner course at the FAA in
Oklahoma City, UTMB’s Aerospace Medicine Center (Clinic), NASA Aerospace Medicine,
Occupational Medicine and Behavioral Health, and screening applicant records for
Antarctica). Residents present clinical cases at AsMA both first and second year. The second
year is spent doing four more months of clinic, motorsports medicine, research, electives,
more extreme medicine offerings (new this year!). The program began as a fellowship in
1993 and obtained residency ACGME accreditation in 1996. The residency has been
accredited since and has placed ~ 38 of 53 graduates at NASA either as NASA civil servants
or through a NASA contract employer.

What if you already have a Master of Public Health?
The program will review an applicants’ previous training, transcripts, experience,
background and career goals. Those with prior MPH or equivalent degrees will spend that
time pursuing experiences such as more research or aerospace medicine rotations to add to
the applicants’ foundational knowledge or credit you for some of that year.


What kind of qualifications do I need? Any particular residency recommended?
Applicants must be a US citizen with an MD or DO degree (though there is an interest in
taking non-citizens, the program does not have funding to offer them). Clinical residencies
are preferred (typically Internal Med, Family Med, Emergency Med) as a prerequisite; since
UTMB aerospace residents rotate in Antarctica and other rotations that require solid clinical
skills to participate in the rotation. However, other residencies are considered on a case-by-
case basis. Applicants must be able to obtain a Texas medical license, be in generally good
health, and able to pass a physical exam for some activities (Air Force centrifuge and
hypobaric chamber, NASA rotations, Antarctic rotation).

Do I need a certain USMLE/COMLEX score to apply? What if I did not do that well?

Minimum USMLE score desired is 200 and 500 for COMLEX. Good scores help, but we look
at scores as part of your overall application.

 

What if I cannot pass a NASA/military physical examination? Does that mean I will not be able
to do the residency?

No, it just means the resident may be excluded from some activities that require a baseline
physical qualification.

How competitive is the program? How many applicants are there each year?

The program is typically highly competitive – but the number of applicants and competition
level varies year to year. We typically accept 2-3 residents per year.

What kinds of jobs are there afterwards? Are there enough jobs for the graduates?
Graduates work many places: NASA as a civil servant; five graduates have gone on to
become NASA astronauts, NASA as a contract employee supporting operations in Houston or
Cape Canaveral, or deploying to Russia to support crews; the Federal Aviation
Administration approving special issuance cases, teaching aviation medical examiners, or
creating aviation medicine policy; the NTSB; private aviation medical examiner practice;
airline medical directors; occupational health clinics; consulting; research; and teaching. The
military also employs a significant number of aerospace medicine specialists. There are
enough jobs for graduates.

What kinds of people have been admitted to the program in the past?
Physicians with internal medicine/family med/emergency med backgrounds, critical care,
some with engineering degrees and/or experience. Some applicants are accepted fresh out
of prior residency training, some have worked in their specialties for several years.

 

Do you need a military background to apply?
No.

Do you need a pilot license?
No. Limited flight experience is provided during the residency. Many of our residents are
private pilots when they apply.

What would you tell individuals only applying to the residency in order to be considered for
astronaut candidacy?

It is the program’s goal to provide a foundation in the entire spectrum of aerospace
medicine, not just space medicine. However, it is beneficial (to both NASA and the applicant)
to understand aerospace medicine if you intend to be a physician selected for astronaut. We
need a diverse team – but it’s critical that some of the physician astronauts understand the
risks of the space environment. The residency provides that foundational expertise.
Without it, NASA needs to add a significant amount to an already packed schedule. Five of
our graduates have become astronauts.

 

What kinds of studying would you recommend prior to applying to the residency? Any
textbook recommended?

It’s not necessary to study before applying. It’s good to attend an Aerospace Medical
Association annual scientific meeting prior to applying, or attend our Principles of Aviation
and Space Medicine course (enrollment is not constrained to UTMB students), or the NASA
JSC Space Medicine Clerkship. Get involved with AMSRO! Davis, Johnson, et. al.
Fundamentals of Aerospace Medicine is a good overall text for reading.

 

What should you do if you do not get in the first time around? Any fellowships recommended
to be more competitive for the next round of application?

Keep applying! We hope to increase the number of residency slots we offer per year and are
looking for other sources of funding. Visit the UTMB Aerospace Medicine recruitment at
AsMA/attend an AsMA meeting, talk to UTMB faculty and residents, stay involved with
AMSRO, focus on getting operational experience, research and becoming a good clinician.

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