Your First FAA Medical Exam

The FAA online medical application can be confusing and a little intimidating, especially for a first-time applicant. Admittedly, it is, at first glance, an inquisitive “investigation,” and in fact, the FAA does consider the medical application process an investigation to determine the applicant’s qualifications to hold and exercise the privileges of the medical certificate.

To start the process, you will need to go to, Licenses and Certificates, and click on Medical Certification. Under the Medical heading, click FAA MedXpress to Request an Account.  Complete the account information with an email address and a password and keep them in a secure place as you will use those credentials each time you renew a medical certificate. 

The next General section will ask if you are applying as a non-FAA pilot, and you probably are, so select that, click on Airman Medical Certificate, and the class of medical. As a student pilot, you only need a Third Class medical to go along with your student pilot certificate. 

You will then complete the demographic information—name, address, phone, date of birth, etc. The social security number is optional.  You will notice that each item on the application form has a “+” icon with a drop-down box where you will find additional instructions for the item. Also, on each page in the upper right column is a link to the PDF instructions that provides more information about the application.
“Prior Certification” asks about your pilot certificates, prior medical applications, and total flight time.
Item 17a gets into the “clinical” parts of the application and asks if you are “cCurrently” using any medications. PLEASE read that question carefully! Medications that you are no longer taking are not reportable; only the ones you are taking at the time of the application. Past medication usage may be important, depending on what meds you took previously, and that history may come out later in sections 18 and 19, but we’ll get there in a minute. 

17b references the use of contact lenses that correct for “near vision.” That is, you need the lenses to see up close, a correction the FAA doesn’t like. Most people wear contacts for distance vision, and that’s fine if both eyes are corrected for distant vision and not one lens for near and the other for distance. FAA regulations require that we be able to see at least 20/40 for distance in “each eye, separately,” so contact lenses that correct for distance need to be worn in each eye. You may need reading glasses for close vision, and that’s no problem.

Item 18 is where it can get a little confusing. Again, read the instructional question carefully as it goes all the way back to the very beginning by asking “HAVE YOU EVER IN YOUR LIFE BEEN DIAGNOSED WITH, HAD, OR DO YOU PRESENTLY HAVE” any of the conditions listed. The drop-down boxes provide examples of medical conditions in each category that the FAA expects you to report. Any “yes” response will prompt a comment but consider keeping it concise. In many cases, an affirmative response will require a report from the treating doctor to help your AME determine if the medical can be issued at the time of the exam. Do your homework and call the medical certification specialists at AOPA if you have any questions about the application! A yes response and an incomplete explanation can result in delays of months (yes, months!) in getting your medical certificate. If you need supporting documentation, it’s best to have it available for the aviation medical examiner at the time of the exam rather than waiting for the FAA to ask for it later. Again, call AOPA if you’re not sure. 

Section 19 asks for visits to health professionals in the last three years. Click on the drop-down box to see how the FAA defines reportable health care providers. Also note that multiple visits to the same doctor such as your family physician for “routine office visits” or annual physical exams can be combined in one report on the application. 

The last item, the National Driver Register and Certifying Declarations, allows the FAA to conduct a one-time query of the NDR that points to state records concerning driver’s license actions like suspension, revocation, or cancellation and serious convictions such as alcohol-related driving offenses. You are also certifying that the information you provided on the application is complete and true. Remember that the application is a federal legal document and that intentional falsification carries a hefty penalty. That notice is right under the declaration statement on the last page of the form.

When you submit your application, the form is transmitted to an electronic “holding area” and is retrieved from the system when you see the aviation medical examiner for the physical exam. You will be prompted to print a copy of the form, and there will be a confirmation number at the bottom. Take the form and the number with you to the exam and the medical examiner’s office will use that number to pull the complete exam from the FAA system. If you are found eligible for the issuance of the medical, the AME will print it and give it to you before you leave the office. Sign it, and you are ready to go!

If you are still a little nervous about the process, AOPA’s TurboMedical allows you to do a trial run of the application questions before doing it for real on the MedXpress site. You will see the same questions but in a different format. TurboMedical is a pre-application planning tool that is seen by you only. It isn’t an alternative to MedXpress but is a way to get a feel for what’s on the actual application before you complete a live application.

Again, if you have any questions about anything regarding FAA medical certification, the Pilot Information Center medical certification staff is available to help. Give us a call at 800- 872- 2672.
Portrait of Gary Crump, AOPA's director of medical certification with a Cessna 182 Skylane at the National Aviation Community Center.
Frederick, MD USA
Gary Crump
Gary is the Director of AOPA’s Pilot Information Center Medical Certification Section and has spent the last 32 years assisting AOPA members. He is also a former Operating Room Technician, Professional Firefighter/Emergency Medical Technician, and has been a pilot since 1973.

Related Articles