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Indian-born B-52 pilot aims to be pilot physician

Discussion in 'The Americas' started by Virajith, May 5, 2013.

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  1. Virajith

    Virajith Captain SENIOR MEMBER

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    He is a pilot on the B-52H Stratofortress and a flight surgeon.He is Capt. Dave Prakash; and, in less than two months, hopes to become a pilot physician. It’s a title held by less than 12 Air Force pilots.

    “In the past 20 years of military service I have had the opportunity to meet some of the most brilliant, patriotic, and talented people the United States has to offer,â€￾ said Col. Blake Lollis, 2nd Aerospace Medicine Squadron commander. “Capt. Dave Prakash is one of those people.â€￾

    Born in India, Prakash traveled to the U.S. with his parents in 1977 and grew up in New York.

    “I, like any other pilot in the Air Force, had a certain fascination with aviation from the time I was 5,â€￾ said Prakash. “But being from an immigrant family where education is paramount, I went through school I happened to be good in science so I took the medicine route.â€￾

    It wasn’t until he was studying chemistry at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, when he was approached by a Marine recruiter that he was informed he could become a pilot.

    “At this time, I was surrounded by doctors and engineers,â€￾ said Prakash. “I never knew how to become a pilot.â€￾

    But because of an accident his junior year, Prakash was disqualified and took the route to medical school.

    “But the bug never left me,â€￾ he said. “I ended up graduating a semester early and started on my private pilot license while I was waiting for medical school.â€￾

    Between his third and fourth year of medical school, Prakash took a two-year sabbatical and had a research fellowship at the National Institute of Health campus in Washington D.C., where he worked for the Food and Drug Administration. This is where he learned about pilot physician program.

    “I contacted a B-52 pilot physician back in 1999,â€￾ he said. “He explained to me that the AF has a program where they can utilize a pilot who is also a flight surgeon in unique roles and responsibilities within the AF. It sounded like a great opportunity to meld two exciting career fields and serve my country at the same time.â€￾

    Prakash’s biggest hurdle would be getting into the Air Force under the age limit to become a pilot.

    He graduated medical school and went on to do an internship. During his internship he was able to do a stint at NASA.

    “Being at NASA just reinforced my interest in aviation medicine and flying in general,â€￾ said Prakash.

    After the completion of his internship, Prakash applied to officer training school.

    “I knew at this point most pilot physicians come in as pilots, and after their commitment, go on to become flight surgeons; or they come in as flight surgeons, and after their commitment, are then selected for pilot training,â€￾ he said.

    Prakash was neither of these.

    “My only option was to commission as a line officer as a 30-year-old second lieutenant who just happened to have an M.D. degree,â€￾ he said. “And hope to eventually transition over to the Medical Corps as a flight surgeon and become a pilot physician.â€￾

    As far as he knows, Prakash is only the second person to ever do this in the Air Force. The last pilot physician to go this route was Maj. Tom Koritz in the 1980s.

    “I heard about him,â€￾ he said. “I was trying to follow the path he pioneered back then.â€￾

    He was accepted into OTS and started pilot training a month before his 30th birthday.

    During training, he needed to stay current in medicine. Prakash had the opportunity to practice medicine in his spare time by helping out the Red Cross during events like Hurricanes Katrina, Ike and Gustav. He also worked in downtown Shreveport at Pool of Siloam, a non-profit, church-affiliated medical program which provides medical services for the indigent and non-insured.

    “When I am [at Pool of Siloam], I see people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, hypertension and diabetes,â€￾ he said. “So I am managing blood pressure medication, insulin. It’s very different from what you see in flight medicine, but certainly challenging enough to keep me current in medicine.â€￾

    In the summer of 2011, after four years of flying as a B-52 pilot, the 2nd Operations Group allowed him to take a brief leave of absence to attend a six-week class in aerospace medicine at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, where he attended the Aerospace Medicine Primary course. In the summer of 2012, Prakash was given the opportunity to attend a five-month refresher training in medicine at the 81st Medical Center at Keesler Air Force Base, Miss. He worked in several different departments from emergency, internal and aerospace medicine to dermatology and cardiology.

    “I have had some great support from my wing commander and my operations group commander, Col. Michael Adderley, Col. Paul Fortunato, 2nd MDG Group commander. They recognized the benefits to this program right away,â€￾ Prakash said. “It’s that kind of leadership we need, where leaders are willing to make a sacrifice and invest in the pilot-physician program by sharing an asset between groups, in order to reap the larger benefits for the wing and B-52 community.â€￾

    Prakash is now working in the flight medicine department in the 2nd Medical Group. He is also flying, as a fully qualified pilot, at least two times a month in the B-52. Being a pilot gives him a unique capability when responding to things like in-flight emergencies.

    “Being a pilot helps me as a flight surgeon,â€￾ said Prakash. “When I respond to an IFE, especially for a physiological incident, I know the checklists these guys are running in the air. Understanding what happened in the jet and what the crew was doing helps me arrive at an aeromedical disposition. Plus I’m still a crew dog. I’ve deployed with these guys and been through inspections. I try to take care of them like family.â€￾

    Prakash is currently working on ground-breaking projects to advance the medical capabilities here, and is excited to see what his future as a pilot physician holds.

    “I’m hoping to justify my leadership’s investment with the upcoming projects of the medical group,â€￾ he said. â€￾

    Prakash’s leadership in the medical group is excited to have him on board.

    “He is an extremely talented, brilliant, and driven young patriot and officer of whom I am very proud,â€￾ said Lollis. “He is a rare individual who has mastered two fields-pilot and physician, and the Air Force will be better because of him. He is a future Air Force senior leader and we are truly fortunate to have such an outstanding, patriotic, young American and Airman such as him at Barksdale.â€￾




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