AME Reviews | Scheduling your flight physical with an Aviation Medical Examiner (AME) is different from most other doctor’s appointments you may have had in the past. Unlike your primary care doctor whose main objective is to keep you healthy, AMEs have a different job. They are charged with helping the FAA keep the national airspace system safe. In other words, most doctors form a partnership with their patients. You can think of them as coaches who help you along the way to better health. An AME is more like an umpire. Their job is not to keep you healthy or even to help you get your medical certificate. Their job is to objectively evaluate your health and report their findings to the FAA.
With that in mind, it is important to make sure you choose an AME who is right for you. Don’t misinterpret that statement. AMEs all work with the same set of standards. Choosing one AME over another is unlikely to influence whether or not you will ultimately receive your medical certificate – at least it shouldn’t. But, the AME you choose and the way you prepare for your exam can have a large impact on how long it takes to get it.
Some background here. Remember AME reports their exam findings to the FAA? Well, that recommendation comes in the form of one of three choices. They can issue your certificate, defer the decision to the FAA, or deny your certificate application outright. If your certificate is issued, everyone goes home happy. Denials by AMEs are VERY rare. As a pilot, what you’re really concerned about is what happens when an AME defers the decision about your medical certification to the FAA. That’s where doing your homework ahead of time is important.
Once an AME defers an exam, it can end up stuck for an unspecified period of time. The FAA is busy and a government organization to boot, so that response generally takes a couple of months to reach the pilot. Sometimes, the response they send is a fresh medical certificate. That generally happens when you, your AME, or someone else sends in additional paperwork (and gets it right).
More often, what the FAA sends instead is a request for more information and, oftentimes, they ask for a lot of it. Once you collect everything they ask for and send it back, you’ll get another response that the FAA gets placed at the bottom of the pile. The good news is that the second response is likely to contain a medical certificate. The bad news you know already if you’ve been doing the math. The process typically takes 4-8 months.
AME Reviews | What you should look for when choosing an AME depends on your situation. Pilotdoctors.com was designed to provide you with the information you need to make the best decision. If you’re healthy, everything on your FAA MedXPress application confirms that and nothing comes up on your physical exam, your choices are easier. Proximity, efficiency and appointment availability are probably the most important things for you to consider. The worst consequences of a bad decision are waiting a few extra days for your appointment or spending a few extra minutes in the waiting room.
As your medical history becomes more complex, so does your visit to the AME. Your AME also has more latitude in how they can handle your case. Since 2013, the FAA has been publishing a number of Conditions AMEs Can Issue (CACIs). By following specific guidance a good AME can still issue you the certificate on the day of your exam even if you have some fairly significant health issues. Careful though – AMEs always have the option to defer your exam to the FAA if they are unsure about a decision. If you have a CACI, it can save you months of time to find an AME who is familiar with them and comfortable applying them.
Many other disqualifying conditions are even more complex to deal with. 14 CFR Part 67 lists 15 specifically disqualifying conditions. If you have one of those, your AME can make an even bigger difference. There is a good chance you can still obtain a medical certificate if you present the right medical records to the FAA. An experienced AME can guide you through that process and help you to navigate it much faster than dealing directly with the FAA after a deferment. If you do have a disqualifying condition, it’s a good idea to schedule an appointment with the AME you choose before our exam or hire some expert help. Navigating the FAA medical certification system with a significant past medical history can be an intimidating process.
Those considerations should dictate what you look for online. If you have a clean bill of health, word of mouth from other pilots, and finding an appointment time that fits with your schedule is good enough. If you find yourself checking “yes” on any MedXPress questions, then you need to do more research. Find out if the condition you have is a CACI. If it is, make sure the AME you choose is familiar with the CACI requirements for your condition and ask if they charge more for dealing with them. If you have a disqualifying condition that is not covered by a CACI, make sure to find an AME who has some experience with complex exams. You may be able to find that information in pilotdoctor.com PIREPS. You might also have to call the AME’s office or schedule an appointment to discuss your case in more detail.
Most importantly, make sure that you know how the FAA regards any condition you report in MedXPress before your exam. If you have a CACI, a disqualifying condition, or just some lingering doubt, do show up to your AME appointment unprepared. Make sure you schedule an appointment with someone well versed in handling cases like yours or schedule an appointment to discuss it with the AME before you actually schedule your exam. You can always contact us for more information about navigating the process.