What is aviation and space medicine?
Aviation and space medicine (ASM) deals with healthy individuals in an unfamiliar or extreme environment. It covers medical care for crew and passengers in aviation and space.
As you can imagine, there’s so much biological information that needs to be considered during air or space travel. Both the intense gravitational effects during ascent, and the low gravity in space itself have numerous effects on the normal functioning of the human body. Some of the physiological changes include fluid shifts, neuro-ocular changes, cardiac morphology alterations and more.1
As a result of these changes, astronauts commonly experience a variety of symptoms like motion sickness, muscle deterioration and loss of balance.2 ASM attempts to develop strategies to tackle some of these common symptoms, as well as managing comorbidities that may be affected by such environments.
This year, a group of students and I decided to set up the Aviation and Space Medicine Society (ASMS) at King’s College London with Jasmine Yap as our founder. Our main goal is to help others learn more about this incredible specialty.
Careers in space medicine
Given that ASM is a relatively new specialty, it can be difficult to find information about career prospects. The good news is that there are several opportunities for individuals who have completed ASM training. Examples include emergency flight doctors or nurses, general flight physicians (responsible for fit-to-fly tests and managing occupational injuries), and research physicians (who study the biochemical effects of flight on the body).3
To apply for ASM specialty training, it’s necessary to first complete foundation training, followed by either core medical training or acute care common stem medicine (ACCS). The only downside is that, unlike most specialty training programmes, ASM is not currently funded by the NHS. Instead, it usually requires sponsorship from the military, regulatory agencies (eg, the Civil Aviation Authority) or aerospace companies. Training times can vary, but the average is around four years.
For me, while I’m still not exactly sure which medical pathway to choose, the idea of being an aerospace physician is definitely something that fascinates me. It seems like the best way of combining two of my favourite interests in a career that’s both adventurous and fulfilling.
Photo credit: Shutterstock
About KCL’s Aviation and Space Medicine Society
Since our establishment in July 2021, we’ve run six events, including a fundraiser for the charity Aerobility.
We also led the UK’s first ever collaborative international undergraduate ASM conference, The Final Frontier 2022, with nine other UK-based ASM organisations. It drew interest from almost 300 people worldwide and we were able to host several high-profile speakers, including Dr JD Polk, the chief health and medical officer at NASA.
Above all, we succeeded in increasing awareness of aviation and space medicine among students, and hopefully encouraged people to learn more about it in the future.
"Like most kids, I loved space - I was always watching space documentaries and was obsessed with Brian Cox. I even took astronomy as a GCSE! I was also fascinated by aviation and joined the RAF Air Training Corps, where I had the opportunity to fly and perform aerobatics with RAF pilots.
"Although I wanted to be a doctor, I knew that I would always be interested in space and aviation too. It wasn’t until my Remote Medicine iBSc that I even realised aviation and space medicine existed - and that it was a legitimate UK medical specialty. I knew I had to set up a society for other students like me, who had never considered the possibility of it existing and wanted to learn more."
- Jasmine Yap, president and founder 2021-22
"When I was younger, I remember learning facts about two topics in particular: space and the human body. Each subject was full of amazing complexities with so much still left to discover and explore. Throughout school, I gave presentations on the possibilities of space travel and habitable planets, even deciding to study astrophysics to further fuel my interest. I also jumped at the chance to watch any sci-fi film I could!
"In the end, I opted for the medicine route, but there was always that small twinge of regret of not having pursued my space interests any further."
- Hozafa Ali, sponsorship officer 2021-22
Our commitment to raising awareness of ASM and increasing accessibility among students is why our membership and events are free (except for fundraisers). We also host a variety of social and academic events and hope to begin hosting revision sessions in the future, too.
To keep up to date with our events, follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @kclasms, and email firstname.lastname@example.org to sign up to our mailing list.
Tips for setting up a student society
For anyone wanting to set up similar university societies - the sky is not the limit! We’d suggest thinking about the following.
- What are the aims of your society and how do you plan to achieve these? What committee roles are required?
- What is your university’s policy for setting up societies? Check deadlines, and don’t be afraid to contact your student union for help.
- Networking: speak to people from similar societies at other universities and organisations within the field. It’s also a great way to find speakers for your events.
- Planning: once you’ve set up your society, create a timeline for your goals during the year. This helps to give yourself and your committee enough notice to carry out the relevant tasks.
Attributions: Jasmine Yap (KCL ASMS president), Lauren Church (KCL ASMS vice-president), Chloe Dass (KCL ASMS vice-president), Shivam Chotai (KCL ASMS events director), Hozafa Ali (KCL ASMS sponsorship officer).
Jasmine Yap – KCL ASMS president
Jasmine is a final year medical student at King’s College London, hoping to pursue a career in paediatrics and emergency aeromedical retrieval. Her lifelong fascination for aviation and space was fuelled by studying astronomy and physics at school and flying aircraft with the RAF Air Training Corps. She founded KCL ASMS in 2021 to raise awareness of this unique medical speciality. Outside of her studies, she is a semi-professional harpist.
Lauren Church – KCL ASMS vice president
Lauren Church is an FY1 doctor at King’s College Hospital NHS Foundation Trust. She graduated in 2022 and holds an MSc with distinction in Space Physiology and Health. Her research portfolio involves studying ventricular volume change in cosmonauts following spaceflight, non-invasive ICP monitoring on orbit, and nutrition for spacewalk performance optimisation. With the International Space School Education Trust (ISSET), Lauren and Chloe Mohanadass developed two experiments that were investigated on the International Space Station in 2020.
Chloe Mohanadass – KCL ASMS vice president
Chloe Mohanadass is an FY1 at Barts Hospital. She joined KCL ASMS due to her growing interest in space medicine. This originated from helping with STEM outreach while at university and engaging with unique opportunities like setting up experiments to send to the International Space Station at the Kennedy Space Centre. In the future, she hopes to combine her interest in space medicine with her love for radiology.
Shivam Chotai – KCL ASMS events director
Shivam Chotai is a fourth-year medical student at King’s College London. He wanted to join KCL ASMS to explore a new field of study previously unknown to him. He would like to keep promoting this area in the future both as a medical student and as a doctor, so that KCL can continue to be at the forefront of this exciting new field as it develops.
: Hodkinson PD, Anderton RA, Posselt BN, Fong KJ (2017). An Overview of Space Medicine. British Journal of Anaesthesia 119(1):143-153.
: Institute of Medicine (US) Committee on Creating a Vision for Space Medicine During Travel Beyond Earth Orbit; Ball JR, Evans CH Jr., editors. Safe Passage: Astronaut Care for Exploration Missions. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2001. 2, Risks to Astronaut Health During Space Travel. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK223785/
: Atzema C, Poirier V. Career options in aerospace and aviation medicine. Annals of Emergency Medicine. 2004 May 1;43(5):652-6.