10 min read

Managing confidence in the cockpit

During and after my flight training, I aimed to be especially diligent and paid close attention to all aspects of flight, in an attempt to counter the widely held perception that doctors are high risk pilots. Where did this perception originate?

The famous report by Dr. Stanley Mohler, “Physician Flight Accidents,” was authored in 1966, a completely different era of both doctor paternalism and lack of self-analysis, and a time of maverick pilot heroics and lack of CRM. To those who were not around during those years, or have not read the archived paper, the “Mohler report” was a manuscript from the Chief of Aviation Medicine in the FAA who was investigating a large series of physician-pilot deaths during the years 1964-1965 (large series = 30 total deaths during the period, or 15 per year.)

However, normalized by the number of physicians flying at the time (3,000) as opposed to the general aviation population (400,000 pilots), this was a death rate that was four times that of the general pilot population. Note that Dr. Mohler’s simple analysis did not even include any accounting of the flight hours flown by the individual: some of the 400,000 pilots in the general pilot community may not have flown much at all, as continues today, and some doctors may have flown a great deal. However, he notes that most of the physician and overall deaths were found in relatively low-hour recreational pilots.

Beech Bonanza

There’s a reason it was called the “forked tail doctor killer.”

The report listed a few of the physician-pilot accidents as a brief narrative, and categorized the variables that led to the fatality, which is a mix of the usual suspects: thunderstorms, night, lack of proficiency, VFR into IMC, drug/alcohol use, and fuel exhaustion. Dr. Mohler concludes that “risk-taking attitudes and judgments appear to be the key underlying thread uniting the major variables studied. For the most part, the flights were undertaken for a purely recreational purpose. The premium physicians place on their relatively restricted opportunities for recreation is highlighted.” Flying was not to be treated like playing amateur golf.

The media took immediate note of the Mohler report, and a follow-up study examined the trends for the next six years, which hovered between 12 and 18 physician-pilot deaths annually. This idea of the dangerous doctor in the air became cemented in popular culture, especially among individuals who were flying during those years.

Several family members, when hearing of my starting my pilot training, came back with vigorous defense of the presumed fact that “physicians were terrible pilots,” even though data did not support this broad conclusion. As flying becomes increasingly expensive, busy professionals increasingly become the ones who fly, and consequently, the ones who have accidents. Normalization based on profession alone is quite difficult, and somewhat meaningless given the heterogeneity within professional communities both in subcategory and individual; to say an internist is the same risk in the air as a surgeon is nonsensical, and any GA control group equally diverse.

While it did not deter me from flight training, the repeated, often derogatory comments from disparate individuals of the dangerous “doctor-pilot” left me initially quite annoyed, and later in a state of concern and suspicion regarding the generation of such a perception. Is this actually true, or far worse, is this necessarily true? On my very first lesson with my instructor, as we were talking and heading out to the plane, I commented on my concern that there was a notion that “doctors are bad pilots.” He looked a bit confused, and paused for a few seconds. “Well, I would suppose that bad pilots are bad pilots. I am not sure it really has much to do with being a doctor.”


Overconfident or just really good – how can you tell?

This was, in my opinion, the best response possible, a correct response, and I stuck with him for my private and instrument training. During my training, my CFI treated me just like the pre-professional students at the flight school, and held me to high regard and to fine standards. I was determined to get the best training I could and become the best pilot possible.

After the amount of material learned during medical school, I knew I would not struggle with memorization of rote material or mastery of the FARs (believe me, we have a lot of practice reading and memorizing large texts), so I was concerned that my personal potential risk factors could include overconfidence or complacency, which is indeed a trap for the non-pilot professional. Both of these can be guarded against with personal honesty and integrity, coupled with constant vigilance.

A great deal of offloading to the subconscious of the basics of flight is needed to function successfully in the cockpit. We have all been in the scenario: your instructor gives you a command at the same time as ATC, and you were checking something else at the same time these instructions met your ears, and in addition to copying the instructions and obeying them, you must continue to fly the plane. It is essential that we develop an instinctual feel, which is a valuable safety mechanism. Mushy controls would never go undetected, as it gives an alertness for high AOA flight and low airspeed. Getting this intuition is a good part of the private pilot training as flying becomes perfected, landings are performed with grace and precision, and all bad habits are squelched.

During the private training I got my tailwheel endorsement from a different instructor, and shortly after spent another dozen hours in a Citabria learning aerobatics and the Aresti notation. I had a great time, and this went far, far beyond a spin recovery course, and putting things together I was able to rehearse quite a few routines. I was pleased when the other instructors also complimented my flight skills and precision. Perhaps again overcompensating, but I enjoyed aerobatics and it was better to become expert than remain at the lower limits of ability when all alone above the ground. By the time I took my checkride, I felt more than ready, and immediately continued on to instrument training and obtained that rating.

In talking with other pilots, I have realized that markedly different attitudes and perspectives exist regarding the display of confidence. As a physician, I tend to become very comfortable and confident in what I am doing (would you undergo a routine case by an unconfident surgeon?). However, I am grounded by the highest of expectations and relentless self-critique and objective (well, as objective as possible) assessment. I tend to say things like “I won’t ever take off misconfigured,” because I use and perform the checklists each time, and double check one more time. This is viewed as a jinx to some to dare to utter aloud, and can also sound similar to an attitude of invulnerability. However, to me it is quite the opposite.

Gear up

“Those who have and those who will,” the saying goes. That’s fatalistic baloney.

On the other hand, many pilots express maxims such as “it could happen to anybody” and “there are two types of pilots, those who have landed gear-up and those who will.” I always cringe when I hear these, because I worry those kinds of statements verge on fatalistic attitudes, believing that mistakes are inevitable. In fact, the FAA defines this attitude, taken to pathology, as “resignation,” and the antidote is “I can make a difference.” A gear up landing can happen to anyone being rushed or distracted. If we follow the checklist and are incessantly vigilant, it will not, and such an event is far from a certainty in the attentive pilot’s career.

Confidence is not the same thing as arrogance, and confidence must never slip into the hazardous attitude of invulnerability. Only taking half of the statement “I won’t take off misconfigured” and subconsciously finishing it with “…because I’m smart, or a doctor, or just plain an incredible pilot” would be incorrect and fantastically arrogant. Of course, any number of calamities could happen to me, you, or any other pilot.

However, if one follows a checklist or reliable consistent flow every single time, and is methodical about an approach, the vast majority of potential errors will not happen. Similarly, in medicine the same is true: I have never performed a wrong-site or wrong-patient surgery, because we are set up for reliable fail-safe and multiple check mechanisms to prevent this from happening, as much as humanly and practically possible.

Even without a bad outcome, skipping a checklist or another failure of omission is cause for self-reflection of procedures, attitudes, and abilities, both in the cockpit and clinic. This is true for student pilots, intermediate instrument-rated amateurs, as well as the 10,000-hour professional pilot. The laws of physics have just application for all; they truly do not care who you are, or how many times you have done it correctly in the past. This is the ultimate recognition of vulnerability.

Surgery checklist

Surgeons are confident; that doesn’t mean a checklist isn’t a good idea.

At the end of the day, both overtly confident and more self-effacing pilots have the same goals in mind. Some desire to remind themselves that they alone are in charge and must own up to critical decisions, boosting their own confidence, and some want to emphasize that they are mortal and must maintain their guard, attempting to limit risks of overconfidence. We all want the same thing – safe flights in our pursuit of aviation excellence. Your own personal expression of confidence might be muttering to yourself, “I can and will do this” or “bad things might happen, do not get overconfident,” or perhaps a mixture of both.

It is true that all sorts of unexpected things can happen in both medicine and aviation in both routine and non-routine flying. Some pilots might have to fly under non-ideal conditions (search and rescue missions) while some might be fun fliers who cancel if there is a cloud in the sky. Some surgeons operate in trauma or in emergency situations, and some only do elective non-urgent procedures.

What is the ultimate metric for how we are doing, or how good we are? The best assessment comes through an unbiased observation of performance and any incidents or events, compared to others in similar conditions. A pilot who routinely has close calls, who has an “adventure in every flight,” who has difficulty with crosswind landings or is startled by the stall horn in the pattern is likely not a calm, confident, reliable pilot. We must judge ourselves by our outcome, overall safety record and (hopefully lack of) incidents and events.

As the adage goes, the superior pilot will avoid demonstration of superior skills through superior judgment. The pilot who is extremely nervous before every flight may have a genuine concern for their ability, but a pilot without any self-questions or ongoing self-assessment may be supremely confident, yet much more dangerous. The best pilot is somewhere in between, extremely confident of his or her polished skill, not arrogant or fatalistic in either direction, and highly aware of the possible risks that flying routinely entails and continuously seeking to minimize them. We should all aspire and work toward this standard, regardless, or in spite of, our outside profession.

Are physicians bad pilots? Well, bad pilots are bad pilots. Some bad pilots are physicians, many are not, and none of us are resigned to any particular fate.

G. Stuart Mendenhall
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29 replies
  1. Hunter Heath
    Hunter Heath says:

    This is the best analysis of the “doctor= dangerous pilot” legend I’ve seen, and I agree entirely. When I trained for my PPL and instrument rating in Rochester, MN (where it seemed half the population were MDs), my instructors made no distinction between their physician students and the rest. Our designated flight examiner was a tough WWII P-38 pilot who didn’t care whether his examinees were physicians, physicists, or plumbers; all were held to the same high standard. That said, two physicians of my acquaintance lost their lives in aircraft accidents, one flying into an Arizona mountainside, and the other making a terrible, fatal error in an aerobatics display. Of the latter, those who knew him said when he took up aerobatics that he would probably kill himself. He was a talker, not a listener, and always had the answer, no matter the question. CFIs have told me that the dangerous personalities show up very early in training, with overconfidence, disregard for rules, and persistent risk-taking. I have concluded that an airman’s personality and character better define the risk profile for flying than does his/her occupation.

    • G. Stuart Mendenhall
      G. Stuart Mendenhall says:

      Thank you, and sounds like a good program and bunch of instructors. I agree that personality and disposition seem to be a large, and perhaps the biggest predictor, of bad outcomes.

      Within the physician community that I am regularly exposed, I could tell you who would be more likely to launch on a wing and a prayer with wishful thinking for a good outcome, and who would be conscientious pilot, perhaps overly so, if pilot training was mandated. But, I could also tell you those same extremes in my general circle of non-physician friends and acquaintances. This variety was also certainly true with the cohort of students at the flight school, drawn from a wide section of society.

    • Michael Klein,MD,FACS, Clinical Professor,Dept of Orthopedic Surgery, Univ.of CA-Davis
      Michael Klein,MD,FACS, Clinical Professor,Dept of Orthopedic Surgery, Univ.of CA-Davis says:

      Dear Hunter:

      The paragraph ending sentence,”I have concluded that an airman’s personality and character better define the risk profile for flying than does his/her occupation.” is a very accurate summation of Dr. Mendenhall’s article regarding physician pilots.

      I have been training residents for twenty-five years and I am chairperson of our medical center’s Physician Health and Wellness Committee(PHWC). I have learned that physicians represent a group of rugged individualists who are not the best team players. They attain their goals by individual effort initially in their undergraduate training to gain entry to medical school. They continue this concept of “having to excel” in order to obtain the residency of their choice during the yearly matching program. During their orthopedic residency we immediately identify character flaws and personality traits that on occasion can and does affect their willingness to accept constructive criticism and heed our warnings. We have made mistakes by allowing the
      “risk taker” and the insecure resident to finish our program. The culmination of these personality issues does not reach a serious point until the end of the third year and it is very,very difficult for our staff to make the decision to terminate their training and suggest another specialty.

      The same personality issues and character flaws exist in the physician who eventually is directed to the PHWC following events that occur in the OR,ICU and on the clinical floors.
      The surgeons with their “stronger personalities” seem to be the largest offenders regarding making insults to staff personnel in the ORs and the ICUs. They seem to be unable to grasp and understand that ” people forget what you may have said, but they never forget how you made them feel.” We have saved the careers of many physicians by redirecting them to anger management classes, behavior modification classes and occasionally to mental health centers.

      These personality flaws, combined with the ability to make large six figure incomes and the desire to “take on another challenge”, end up seated next to a flight instructor whom initially assumes the student understands that becoming a safe and careful pilot is a journey, not a destination. I admire the commitment of every CFI whom I have had the pleasure to work with since I completed my training in 1985. Each CFI, whether they teach as an avocation enroute to “fly for the majors” or as their full time vocation, takes pride in what they do and can teach at every phase of training. They are tasked with the same dilemma we have when we realize a resident is not studying or more importantly listening to their instructors in the ORs and clinics.
      The cockpit is the laboratory of a CFI where the student must learn the importance of using a check list, conducting a detailed pre-flight inspection, performing pre-flight planning, learning communication skills and fully understanding the weather conditions at the departure airport, the enroute weather and the weather at the arrival airport. When these factors are not followed, tragic events can and do occur. We have a saying called the six “Ps”, PROPER PRE-0P PLANNING PREVENTS PROLONGED PROCEDURES”. There is also a 7th “P”, which is the pee running down your leg when you do not do the first six. IMO this also applies to every airman.

      I liked Mr. Heath’s comment in his bio where he stated that on occasion “he reluctantly drives “.
      I do the same and have rented a car and driven home. When the weather improved I flew back and retrieved my airplane. I am constantly reminded of the saying, “It is much better to be driving and wish you were flying, than flying and wish you were driving.”

      • G. Stuart Mendenhall
        G. Stuart Mendenhall says:

        Dr. Klein thank you for your post. I agree there are often some large personality flaws that get through programs, and it is very hard to essentially force somebody to switch a career (in medicine and for professional piloting too).

        I believe it is my bio you commented on? On the East side of the country at my latitudes there are often concern for icing and thunderstorms, which ground even the well-trained IFR pilot. Fortunately at least short-term weather prediction is quite good, so I haven’t been stranded many places.

  2. Meredith
    Meredith says:

    I don’t have any particular opinion over whether doctors are good or bad pilots. But while confidence is a desired trait, overconfidence is a dangerous one.

    When I hear someone say the phrase “I would never…” I immediately connect that to overconfidence. I personally find that thinking about possible mistakes makes me a more thorough and safe pilot. Checklists especially can become so automatic that it’s possible to touch an item, the fuel boost pump for example, and say “On” when the switch is actually off.

  3. Duane
    Duane says:

    Dr. Mendenhall – It is not “fatalistic” to acknowledge that human errors are inevitable – rather it is a form of “error mitigation”.

    Acknowledging the reality and inevitability of human error is much more effective than practicing denial and pretending that we pilots can be Super Man. Making errors comes with being human – it’s how we’re built. A great deal of scientific research has gone on in the area of “human factors” and “human error assessment” in recent decades, such that we now understand fairly well how and why we humans make errors … but that knowledge does not provide a “cure” for human error. Checklists, for example, cannot by themselves “prevent errors”, and are easily ignored, defeated or undermined by human operators. They are at best only one aid in helping us avoid or catch errors before they do major damage, if used correctly.

    There are of course other aids in reducing human errors, and the effects of our errors, besides check lists … including redundancy of control (whether practiced in the operating room, or on the flight deck, or by an autopilot), as well as extensive recurrent training, regular performance evaluation, and routine study of accident reports to learn from others’ errors. These all help to mitigate our error-prone human nature.

    But none of the above will ever “prevent human error”. It is much better to accept our error-proneness as a species, and then do what we can to limit the damage (via “mitigation”, or what we pilots call “risk management”), than to pretend that check lists, and having a good attitude, or having lots of experience and extensive training will always save us from ourselves.

    • G. Stuart Mendenhall
      G. Stuart Mendenhall says:

      I do not disagree, and nowhere do I pretend pilots “can be Super Man.” In fact, one of my paragraphs explicitly states this. I do believe, however, we can and should reliably follow checklists and espouse procedures consistently to minimize errors.

      You are likely familiar with the work of the psychologist James Reason, who provided a nice framework of thinking of errors and distinguishing between mistakes, slips, and lapses, and his now-widely imitated organizational model in many industries. In the medical community risk management techniques and concepts are increasingly in focus; our field is routinely and often necessarily more chaotic than flight or a mechanical system, so unfortunately lends itself imperfectly. Still, aspects of minimizing, say latent failures in drug prescription, have had very good success in preventing error and efforts continue for application in medicine.

      The work above is about the often-contrasting psychological forces regarding confidence and its expression. Often the attitudes of acceptance of some risk veers into fatalism (e.g. gear up landing), which I actively shun. Different people and personalities focus on different aspects of the same issue, despite the common goal.

  4. Stephen Phoenix
    Stephen Phoenix says:

    The only thing peculiar to doctors is their self sense of importance. They are involved in a business where missing an appointment is a big deal to someone and therefore they “have” to be there. Mixing that sense with airplanes is a bad idea no matter what the profession. But I think it is, or has been perhaps, more prevalent with doctors. It seems that the lesson has been learned, in the doctor world anyway. I don’t see that they are so heavily represented on the crash scenes as they once were.

    Of course, they also have better airplanes now than the old Bonanzas. A TBM 900 will let you keep more appointments without drama; maybe that also has had an effect.

    • G. Stuart Mendenhall
      G. Stuart Mendenhall says:

      I agree that the oft-quoted “get-there-itis” is potentially lethal.

      We may never know exact statistics regarding particular “physician risks,” as the one way of determining who is flying, and how much, is at the medical renewal, where all pilots must record their total hours. However, occupation is not recorded in any published statistics or records that I know.

      Dr. Mohler’s observations were unfortunately not normalized nor adjusted to active pilots or by hours flown, only compared to the total population of certificated pilots at the time of the study. I would suspect that any busy professional-amateur has high risk if interested in flight only for utility, as you reference. It is not like golf!

      I caution any sort of wide interpretation from the statistics that we have available regarding the occupational distribution, however, the narrative of events and factors in the Mohler report is very useful to any pilot.

      A TBM 900 costs around $3.7 million and operation approaching $1000 per hour; truly a rare physician, if any, that are in command of such a craft!

  5. Hunter Heath
    Hunter Heath says:

    I agree with Dr. Mendenhall that elements of a pilot’s life and personality and character are the most important elements of that airman’s flight safety risk, and that occupation is itself a minor component. In an earlier article, “Malibu Down” (http://airfactsjournal.com/2013/03/malibu-down/) I wrote about the fatal crash of an expensive aircraft piloted by a prominent businessman. Business owners, attorneys, architects, entertainers, and other occupational groups often have “appointment-imperative,” gotta-get-there motivation. And members of those occupational groups can be as self-important as any. I have flown with many physicians who were as thorough, competent, safety-focused, and prepared as anyone. It all goes back to the basics: training, competence, self-awareness, and personality, none of which are more or less important depending on how the airman makes a living. (BTW, if it is possible for a physician to afford a TBM900, clearly I made a wrong turn along the way!)

    • Stephen Phoenix
      Stephen Phoenix says:

      Well, I developed my impression of doctors when I was a young lineboy in Northern Nevada and my mind was still impressionable. There was a doctor that flew in every week from Reno, in his new Bonanza, to service our small hospital. It came time for him to leave one week and I mentioned to him that he would have to land out at the Stead airport because the main Reno airport had just closed for runway surfacing. His response, “I’m a doctor, they’ll let me land at Reno”.

      Uh huh, I read about him in the paper the next day. After the tower told him he would have to go out to Stead he told them that he was a doctor and needed to be at the hospital shortly. They said no and so he lined up for a taxiway and landed, in front of God and everybody….Gear Up.

      Maybe he was an outlier, but it left an impression on me anyway.

      Also, I’m sure there are doctors that can afford something better than a Bonanza. One of them currently writes for Flying magazine. Ok, he only has a Cheyenne, but he was aspiring to a CJ Mustang (with a deposit as I recall). That’s my other data point.

  6. Bob Altemus
    Bob Altemus says:

    Maybe a different twist on the idea of ‘Are Doctors Bad Pilots’, which I personally don’t believe is valid, but more to the notion that Doctors, Lawyers, Engineers and other ‘perceived’ well compensated professionals was that they tend to upgrade in equipment too quickly. My recollections as an aspiring aviator, where you begged, borrowed and finagled any way to acquire hours, there was always the concept that ‘Bonanzas and 210 Centurions’ were Dr/Lawyer ‘killers’, because immediately upon earning their PPL the Dr/Lawyers purchased the best/brightest singles available and were subsequently overwhelmed by the aircraft’s performance and the pilot’s lack of experience. Obviously not an established fact, but it was a GA perception I remember. After a career in multiple aspects of the aviation industry, I’ll just acknowledge the fact that some pilots just really shouldn’t be pilots, but they made it through the various checks and balances and they are out there!

  7. Hunter Heath
    Hunter Heath says:

    FWIW, as a mid-career physician with a new PPL, I upgraded from rental Musketeers to my beloved 1966 C-172, & ended my flying with a 1946 Aeronca 11AC Chief! We aren’t all cardiovascular surgeons.

  8. Bob
    Bob says:

    A very well written and thoughtful commentary…However, I recall that during my years at Piper, all of the sales pilots hated going to the Flying Physicians convention. A cornucopia of horror stories resulted from the demonstration flights with the doctors. Combine an above average intelligence with a large ego and stuff will happen. Most of us found that the biggest problem was a reluctance to listen…they just wanted to go!

    Having said that, over the years I have come in contact with a number of pilot physicians who are every bit as professional in the cockpit as at the hospital.

  9. Lawrence Reed
    Lawrence Reed says:

    Exceptionally written piece – and one which I wholeheartedly agree. Given the increased expense of flying, it is also likely that attorneys, real estate developers, etc. could all be categorized this same way – likely because it takes a higher than average earnings pattern to allow one to become a pilot. The best point of this article is the summary “a bad pilot is a bad pilot” and I also appreciate the distinction you drew between arrogance and confidence. Flying is inherently something that will throw each pilot a “curve ball” at some point in their piloting – but the pilot that realizes these risks, and prepares for them, will usually successfully persevere in a difficult situation.

    MORT MASON says:

    Dr. Mendenhall is pretty much on target with this article. There are times, though, when the situation requires a keen familiarity with the airplane one is flying during those times when going through the checklist truly isn’t possible. The majority of my flying activities were preformed during my flying in the Alaska bush. I recall one flight involving a medical emergency when available time just didn’t allow going through a printed checklist.

    In extracting a commercial fisherman with a broken leg, my wheel mounted Cessna 185 had landed on a gravel beach along Alaska’s Cook Inlet. By the time we had the injured man safely aboard and secured, the incoming tide, second only to the 41-foot tides at the Bay of Fundy, had almost reached the waterside landing gear. Stealing time for a checklist read would have meant another several hours before the man could be extracted. So – – – no time for the checklist! Familiarity with that high performance and complex aircraft was most important at that moment.

    I agree that this was an atypical situation, but the Alaska bush presented many of them.

    • G. Stuart Mendenhall
      G. Stuart Mendenhall says:

      Thanks,and I have similar thoughts. As I fly a single craft weekly, it becomes extremely familiar, and I’ve started using deliberate flows for some operations. As an interim step I would configure the plane then use the checklist as a verification. Really, though, the risks depend on the operation.

      A single engine piper in VFR conditions on a 6000 foot runway starting a takeoff roll with full flaps down would be a minor inconvenience and take seconds to realize and correct, while in another craft it could be difficult to diagnose and potentially fatal.

      No matter how I configure, I always do the last minute check of flaps, mix/prop and trim before starting the roll.

      Not sure a 185 is complex though – I believe strictly speaking that definition requires retractable gear. Perhaps amphibious floats counts!

  11. John Wright
    John Wright says:

    Nice article. I agree with Lawrence Reed regarding the take away message.
    John Wright, D.O. (ophthalmologist)
    3,000 hrs. and still alive!

  12. Paul
    Paul says:

    The financial capability of physicians in general to purchase aircraft initially, or in upgrade, perhaps contributes to their mortality rate.Recognizing that non-urgent care vs:surgeons who lead the pack in ingenuity may differ in ego,there is the possibility that ego driven personalities will push the envelope moreso in flying complex aircraft they are ill-trained to fly,but can afford. Sadly,their families are likely aboard these multi seated aircraft enroute exotic destinations with get-there-itis stricken pilots.

  13. Micheal Sheetz
    Micheal Sheetz says:

    As a low time private pilot this article and discussion I have found to be quite interesting. I can see the elements that can lead to an undesired end that can endanger any pilot. I read several aviation publications that include accident analysis or “never do that again” articles. The old saying “learn from others mistakes cause you can’t make them all yourself” applies to aviation. Too often some of those with means are trapped with knowledge that is lacking in experience. I do not believe you can be a good pilot without both. That means you need to be keenly aware of your own limitations – i.e. student pilots should only do what student pilots do with good supervision, ATP’s only what is within the rules and guidelines. As has been said “the laws of physics apply to everyone”.

  14. Edward Seaton
    Edward Seaton says:

    As a Flight Instructor I have taught a number of Doctors to fly.And to make it short and sweet,most made very good Pilots.I did not see any different between Doctors or any other group of Pilots.

  15. Ken Durkin
    Ken Durkin says:

    I had the pleasure of flying regularly with a Senior AME, Hal Conwell, in his Beech Sundowner for over 20 years. Regularly he would say that he could see no point in going any faster than we could manage in it. He had access thorugh friends to much faster anf expensive equipment but the Sundowner was good enough for him Me as well!

  16. Horacio Gutierrez
    Horacio Gutierrez says:

    Stuart, I enjoyed your excellent article. As a physician, I was also well aware of the stereotypes when learning to fly, but fortunately, the aviation community has been almost universally positive. The stereotype even helped motivate me at first. I believe being a physician has actually made me a better pilot as long as I approach flying like medicine. This means a long term commitment to learning, studying, maintaining proficiency, and always striving for better. For me, this means challenging myself to acquire a dozen pilot/instructor ratings and trying to make each flight better than the last. I suppose this may make me a better than average pilot. But, I realize that I will never be as good a pilot as a dedicated career pilot. It’s true that physicians as pilots are no different than businessmen, lawyers, or other professionals. In addition to our potential risk of overconfidence and complacency, we also suffer from the serious risks associated with fatigue and a “go go go, don’t have much time” attitude. I believe fatigue in particular has been an often underestimated contributor to aviation accidents. I’ve learned through experience that fatigue can be particularly insidious.

    • G. Stuart Mendenhall
      G. Stuart Mendenhall says:

      True enough. I remember my instrument check pilot and a few others cautioning me against working a full day in clinic / OR and then embarking on a long IFR flight. It is distressing that the most difficult part of the flight often comes at the end of the flight, typically at the end of a day, when fatigue is at its worst.

      I have canceled or delayed more than a few flights when I just felt I was too tired.

  17. Roger Best
    Roger Best says:

    Doctors, as a group, are neither any better or worse as pilots than any other cohort. However, I believe the stereotype is bolstered because these pilots likely receive a little more coverage when they involved in an accident due to their stature in the community.

    • Geoff Vincent
      Geoff Vincent says:

      Sydney, We’re all like that! HMM guy in second picture: Wait a minute: tasteful tie, AND matches his outfit!

      Nope, not a doctor.

      Good article, by the way. I’m an emergency physician with about 400 hours in my own Cessna 150. I haven’t yet learned all I can from my J-mo, my Cessna 2-seater. Not ready to move up. I think doctors can be fine pilots! Like others in lucrative professions, they can buy planes above their skill level.

  18. Anthony Gaines
    Anthony Gaines says:

    Interesting article and discussion. As someone outside of the medical industry I am surprised to hear physician training does not emphasize and require resource management skills.

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