FAQ's for Aerospace Medicine Residency

FAQs for Aerospace Medicine Residency

Aerospace Medicine 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.
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, NASA Aerospace Medicine, Occupational Medicine and Behavioral Health, and screening applicant records for Antarctica).  You 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!).
We would review your previous training, transcripts, experience, background and career goals.We may substitute some of your time to add to your foundational knowledge, add more research time, or credit you for some of that year.
You must be a US citizen with an MD or DO degree (though we are interested in taking non-citizens, we do not have funding to offer them). We normally prefer clinical residencies (typically Internal Med, Family Med, Emergency Med) as a prerequisite; our residents rotate in Antarctica and need to have solid clinical skills to participate in the rotation. However, we are open to other residencies on a case-by-case basis. You must be able to obtain a Texas medical license. You should be generally in good health and able to pass a physical exam for some activities (Air Force centrifuge and hypobaric chamber, NASA rotations, Antarctic rotation).
Good scores help, but there is no minimum score to apply. We look at scores as part of your overall application.
No, it just means you may be excluded from some activities that require a baseline physical qualification.
The program is typically highly competitive – but the number of applicants and competition level varies year to year.
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; teaching. The military also employs a significant number of aerospace medicine specialists. There are enough jobs for graduates.
Physicians with internal medicine/family med/emergency med backgrounds, critical care, some with engineering degrees and/or experience. Some applicants join us fresh out of prior residency training, some have worked in their specialties for several years. Of six current residents, one is critical care, two are emergency medicine, two have engineering degrees, one is family med/sports med, one is an internist.
No. We provide limited flying experience during the residency. Many of our residents are private pilots when they apply.

Applicants invited for an interview will be expected to attend two full day consecutive interviews with UTMB faculty and representatives from the NASA Johnson Space Center and KBR, NASA’s prime contractor.

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. We provide a foundation in the entire spectrum of aerospace medicine, not just space medicine.
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). Get involved with AMSRO (I mentioned we are hoping to do some outreach starting late summer). Jeff Davis’ Fundamentals of Aerospace Medicine is a good overall text for reading.
Any fellowships recommended to be more competitive for the next round of application? Keep applying! We are hoping to increase the number of residency slots we offer and are looking for other sources of funding. Visit our display booth at AsMA/attend an AsMA meeting, talk to our faculty and residents, stay involved with AMSRO, focus on getting operational experience/research/becoming a good clinician.
  • Monocular vision – probably OK
  • Diabetes? – we can work around it academically but there will be extra scrutiny around the Antarctic deployment, flying and diving.
  • Look into the FAA waiver process (special issuance may be possible)
  • Research
  • Make your case.
  • We still need aerospace medicine specialists, even if you can’t fly or become an astronaut
We are typically looking for people who are generally physically fit and would be able to participate in diving, hiking, attending training in the desert, polar, jungle, mountain environments, and deploying to an austere environment. You do NOT need to be a triathlete, a marathon runner, or crazily athletic – but good overall fitness is expected.
  • Addressed above
  • We are trying to become more visible, so that more people are aware of the specialty and know how to find us – within AsMA, AMA, and at UTMB.