Dr. Bartell, the Plastic Surgeon Pilot Who Loves Flying

A Fun Fact About Me: I Love Flying!

A Blog By Dr. Tom Bartell

Four years ago I achieved a personal milestone: I earned my private pilot license. I was first introduced to single engine general aviation during my surgical training in St. Louis. One of my resident colleagues took me up in a small plane and I’ve been hooked ever since.

What’s Amazing About Flying?

I was fascinated with the technical expertise necessary to pilot a plane and navigate to a remote destination (in the days before GPS). While I certainly didn’t have the time or resources to learn to fly at that time, I was intrigued with the idea. Years later, while in private practice, I thought again about learning to fly. However, this plan was vetoed by my wife who felt that anyone with small children at home had no business flying a single engine plane. What I didn’t realize was that her definition of “small” bore no relationship to their actual size. The week after I deposited our youngest in his college dorm room, I was at the flight school signing up for lessons.

Learning to fly opens up an entirely new world. It’s similar (I suppose) to joining an exclusive secret society or club. The mysteries of flight and airport operations, signage, and terminology become clear. In that way, it is also similar to medicine.

How Flying Is Like Performing Body Recontouring Surgery

One begins to understand why things happen the way they do, and perhaps be able to alter the course (of a disease or condition, or an airplane). In addition, like plastic surgery, the pilot must be creative in many situations, adjusting (on the fly, so to speak) to changing conditions of wind and weather, as well as other air traffic. No landing is ever the same. In surgery we have a saying: “show me a surgeon who has no complications and I’ll show you a surgeon who doesn’t operate”. In flying, one could just as easily say: “show me a pilot who doesn’t have an occasional rough landing and I’ll show you a pilot who doesn’t fly”.

Flying is Such a Privilege

Once a pilot certificate is earned, the owner will forever be a pilot (even after he/she no longer flies). In that way it is similar to a medical certificate; once a doctor, always a doctor. I feel blessed to be able to do something that only the smallest percentage of the population of the world in all history has been able to do: powered flight. While I came to it later in life, I plan to take full advantage of my new hobby!

-Written by Dr. Tom Bartell