Students’ medical certificates can pose a real challenge to our business if your customers don’t get the proper guidance. Whether it’s the student who has to be hounded to get his medical done well after he should have already soloed, or the Happy-Go-Lucky naive type that breezes into the doctor’s office and quickly checks the “No” box for everything on FAA Form 8500-8 without reading it thoroughly, they are taking a rather sizable financial risk if not done properly.
Keeping with the mantra, “The best protection is prevention,” many flight schools have gone beyond suggesting their students obtain their medical prior to beginning flight lessons to requiring it in order to establish a stable learning environment and as best business practice. This will help alleviate fears of any last-minute surprises to our students, and our projected budgets won’t be unnecessarily thwarted when we are forced to return large chunks of student deposits to those who suddenly find they’re unable to get a medical certificate.
Perhaps one of the most valuable lessons your CFIs will ever present to a new student is how to properly qualify and prepare for the medical exam. Explain to them there’s no need to apply for a class of certificate higher than they need. Caution those who want to apply for a first class medical certificate (when they have no intention of pursuing a professional flying career) that if the AME finds a disqualifying condition, they won’t just be bumped down to the next lower class; they’ll walk out of the AME's office with no medical certificate at all. Of course, the other side of the argument is that if a student is just starting out on his journey to becoming a professional pilot, applying for a first class medical initially may save him a fortune in flight training investment if an issue is found that disqualifies him, or at least it’ll give him time to work through the issue if he can reapply for a lesser certificate now.
One very effective and proven method for making students aware of the requirements and gravity of their visit to the AME is to have them complete the Form 8500-8 using AOPAs TurboMedical®, which offers guidance and advice throughout the process. Because this is intended to be an assistive and educational tool, the program is very simple to navigate, helps guide them through step-by-step, and provides thorough answers on how best to answer questions, and which medications may keep them from getting a medical certificate. By providing appropriate comments in the medical question section, pilots are made aware of what additional documentation to provide the AME at their visit. For instance, if they’ve had surgery on a foot, their gallbladder removed, or were hospitalized for an infection, the hospital discharge summary accompanied by a signed, dated follow-up note from their doctor indicating return to full activity is usually sufficient. TurboMedical® is one of the many included benefits of AOPA membership, so if your student had not yet joined, they can sign-up for free.
Although the TurboMedical® Form 8500-8 can be printed and presented to the AME at their appointed visit, most AMEs are no longer accepting the form on paper. Beginning Oct. 1, 2012, the form must be electronically completed online using the FAA’s MedXPress, which will then be transmitted to the FAA and available to the AME to review at the time of medical examination. One AME cautions that it’s vital that pilots enter their information with great accuracy as the system will be much more capable of finding things that the FAA did not monitor closely before. For instance, if the AME did not catch something on a form it was rarely red-flagged by the FAA, but now this can be done much easier with the automation process. TurboMedical® as a rough draft prior to entering the final data into MedXPress is still best practice since once they click on the submit button it cannot be changed until they are trying to justify any change to the AME.