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Flying Physician says Aviation is Good Medicine

Aug 28, 2018 06:00AM ● By MED Magazine

By Alex Strauss

Family medicine doctor Mark Ptacek, MD, was first introduced to the world of aviation in medical school at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha. The Nebraska native, who now practices at Lead-Deadwood Regional Hospital and Clinic, was dreaming of a far-away small town he wished to visit when a flight instructor classmate told him “You need to get a pilot’s license.”

“My friend said I’ll be your instructor,” remembers Dr. Ptacek. “I had inherited some money from my uncle so I decided to do it.”

After some on-again, off-again training, Ptacek earned his pilot’s license in his second year of residency at the United Hospital Center in Clarksburg, West Virginia and purchased his first plane, a Piper Cherokee Six.

Ptacek quickly got involved with the Flying Physicians Association, a national group that promotes aviation safety, cross-disciplinary medical education, and charitable and social activities for physician pilots. He has been a member for more than 30 years.

“When I go to CME events, I get just the family practice perspective, but at FPA, if we are talking about, say, prostate disease, we’ll have oncologists, urologists, and other specialists.” says Dr. Ptacek. “You get the ability to see things from another angle.”

On a visit to the Experimental Aircraft Association’s annual AirVenture convention in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, Dr. Ptacek was inspired to take his passion for aviation a step further and build his own aircraft. “You get a whole different appreciation for aviation when you actually build the airplane,” he says.

He spent five years building a 4-seater aluminum Van’s RV-10 from a kit and flew his homemade airplane for the first time in O’Neill, Nebraska on leap day, February 29, 2008.

“I practiced in a small town in Nebraska for 25 years and the ability to fly gave me access to larger communities and continuing education opportunities that I would not have been able to take the time to drive to,” says Ptacek, who is also a certified RV-10 mechanic.

“I encourage young docs, especially if they are going to be in a rural area, to go and get a pilot’s license,” says Ptacek. “Then, if you are ‘bitten’ by the aviation bug and that becomes part of who you want to be, it is a very good fit with medicine. I’m able to not only fly to see my kids around the country, but also to do locums work for several organizations.”

Ptacek’s enthusiasm is, indeed, infectious; his son, a medical resident in Rapid City, is also a pilot  and Ptacek’s fiance and Lead-Deadwood colleague, family medicine doctor Nadia Tymkowych, MD, is pursuing her pilot’s license.