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Cool job: Dr. Joelle Thorgrimson, FP and flight surgeon, Royal Canadian Air Force

Thinking you might want to try something new? In this "Cool Jobs" series, we highlight some inspiring Canadian physicians who are doing something a little different
Dr. Thorngrimson crouched on tarmac, in khaki uniform, helicopter in background
Cool job: Dr. Joelle Thorgrimson, FP and flight surgeon, Royal Canadian Air Force

Was this something you always planned to get into, or did you get there by a more indirect route?
During medical school, I didn’t know about the field of aerospace medicine until I met a retired flight surgeon who educated and inspired me. With my background in physics and love of aviation, it seemed like the perfect area of medicine for me!

What's your favourite part of the job?
As a civilian IFR-rated commercial pilot, the highlight is flying with the military aircrew to have firsthand experience of the stressors of flight and performing military missions globally. Flying in a fighter jet or a search-and-rescue helicopter has given me a huge amount of respect for what military aircrew experience daily and helps me better understand what is needed medically to be successful and safe in these environments.

Can you share an anecdote about a challenging situation you have encountered?
Working in austere environments, whether remote or in foreign countries, can result in challenging decision-making. For example, I have been in a foreign medical facility where I have had to choose between dealing with patriarchal medical staff, language barriers, substandard care and optimizing the risk of staying in the care facility—versus leaving to ensure the best outcome for the patient. There is no right answer in these situations.

What qualities should someone have to do this kind of work?
Aerospace medicine is a growing field with a strong operational focus. Having real-world experience in these environments is paramount to be able to appropriately treat, manage and advise. Arguably the military aviation context provides the best opportunity to do this, however, there are sacrifices, such as frequent relocations and deployments overseas. If you are interested in learning more about aerospace medicine, check out the Canadian Society of Aerospace Medicine!

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