Have Pilots License Will Travel - Or Not

I don’t know about you but having that treasured piece of paper means many things to me; a sense of intellectual and skill-set accomplishment, fellowship with like-minded men and women and the freedom to go where I want, when I want. Unless I cannot. Like now.

The pandemic has impeded travel over and above impacting so many aspects of our humanity – the tragic loss of life, debilitating illness and financial ruin. One issue that has also been adversely affected is the practice of philanthropic medicine, for not only are charitable financial contributions way down, but those healthcare practitioners who have delivered care in underserved areas are struggling to do what they love.

In my experience, doctors join the medical profession to do good, and many of us have been privileged to take whatever skills and experience we may have to parts of the world that are far less blessed with human and financial resources. For instance, I had the chance to teach various surgical techniques in South America, the Middle East, China and India among others. Quite apart from the satisfaction of helping individual patients, there is the joy of equipping our overseas colleagues with the knowledge to carry out interventions that they would otherwise never have the chance to learn. Usually, physicians get together at conferences to exchange knowledge and ideas, to debate the evidence surrounding any given medical topic and to forge new collaborations. While attending lectures and symposia is a big part of attending a congress, many meaningful conversations take place walking from one formal event to another, or over a coffee or beer. All that has stopped due to COVID-19, and while online “virtual” conferences are all the rage, and are a poor substitute in many ways, they have opened our eyes to how we might better serve our colleagues in lesser developed countries.

Many years ago, I met Dr. Yulun Wang, a brilliant scientist from the University of California at Santa Barbara. He had developed a robot intended to be deployed on board a satellite for use in the defense realm. Yulun wanted to move the technology into healthcare and I was fortunate to play a small role in supporting the development of surgical robotics. Once his company was acquired, Dr. Wang started another, InTouch Health, that combined robotics and telemedicine to bring medical expertise from one part of the developed world to another. And now he has started the World Telehealth Initiative, or “WTI”.

The goal of WTI is to revolutionize global healthcare by providing quality medical training and treatment where it is needed, when it is needed by helping develop medical skills of those “on the ground” in some of our world’s most troubled spots, to improve the health outcomes of the people in these underserved areas and to provide clinicians in wealthier countries the chance to make a difference.

We all love to travel, we love our freedom to fly and the chance to bond with those we care about. Philanthropic medicine combined with aviation has allowed so many to do so much good in the world and at the moment there is a huge, aircraft-shaped gap in these activities. This damn virus has eroded so many aspects of our humanity, and at a time when certain nations are becoming more insular and less externally focused, WTI provides the chance for us to gaze outward.

So, to those of you reading this who are healthcare providers, please consider participating. For those of you who are not, please see if you can help in any way, even just by talking about this. Our humanity is under threat; let’s not fly under the radar and instead tackle this problem together. And stay safe and well.

Jonathan Sackier
Dr. Jonathan Sackier is an expert in aviation medical concerns and helps members with their needs through AOPA Pilot Protection Services.

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