If a pilot does not have any medical problems and does not take any medications, it probably does not matter what AME they visit, since those exams are a slam dunk. The problems come up when the aviator has a medical issue or takes medications that may have an impact on certification.
The FAA knows that many problems pilots have with their medicals are caused by mistakes made by the AME. These mistakes may cause unnecessary delays and expenses for the pilot and waste precious staff time at the FAA. For example, a pilot may have his or her medical deferred to the FAA when the pilot qualified for a CACI (Conditions AMEs Can Issue), which could have been issued on the spot.
I have always believed that pilots should go to AMEs who are pilots. That is not to say there are no good nonpilot AMEs, but having intimate aviation experience helps the AME know more about the relevance of various medical issues’ impact on piloting an aircraft. Although the FAA recognizes this as well, it does not limit AME designation to pilots only, since there are not enough physician pilots who are willing to go through the training and effort it requires.
It may take several calls, callbacks, and time-consuming conversations, which are often done gratis for the pilot. Pilots help pilots.Pilot AMEs tend to go the extra mile for pilots who need help because of medical issues, which may include helping to gather medical records, making sure the pilot has completed the required testing, organizing the packets sent to the FAA, and even making telephone calls to the regional flight surgeon or the main Oklahoma City office. Sometimes, just a telephone call can straighten out an issue, but, as most people know, calling a government agency is not as easy as getting an Uber. It may take several calls, callbacks, and time-consuming conversations, which are often done gratis for the pilot. Pilots help pilots.
Obviously, it is important to ask other pilots about their experience with AMEs. Particularly if you know a pilot who has had medical issues, their experience can be a critical piece of information about an AME’s wiliness to help when things get messy. Sure, any individual pilot may have a bad experience with an AME, but if similar comments are made by several pilots, look out.
It is always a plus if you can speak to the AME informally when they are around the airport flying or at other pilot meetings. AMEs who are active in the airport community and give talks on aviation medical issues are usually happy to help with informal information. We have three active pilot AMEs at our airport, so there is plenty of help available right on our field.
But the burden of the medical exam is not all on the AME. If you have a medical issue, had a hospitalization, or started on a new medication, be prepared when you walk into the AME’s office. Bringing to the exam the relevant medical records, consultant reports, and test results can speed the certification process, whether it can be done on the spot or whether it must be sent to the FAA. A good AME will help organize the records and be sure relevant records are included and irrelevant records do not waste FAA staff time.
The criteria for most all medical conditions are listed in the AME’s online guide, which is public on FAA.gov. However, the guide can be daunting to interpret, so do not undergo expensive testing without calling the AME or a medical specialist at AOPA’s Pilot Protection Services first. For instance, some tests can be done too early and/or must be completed close to the AME exam date. If they are not in the required time frame, the FAA will (not may) require them to be repeated.
I have been an AME for more years than I want to admit and still must refer to the AME guide regularly. Since the guide has gone online, there are monthly changes, so it is also important to make sure you check for updates for your specific issue.