Is there a doctor on board?

I have been traveling a bit for residency interviews over the past few weeks, and given that planes, trains, and buses have become my new home, I have been thinking a lot about what I would do if a fellow passenger needed medical help. As we go into the holiday season, I imagine many people with medical training will be traveling, as well.

I was once called upon to assist a passenger in an in-flight medical emergency. It was when I was leaving for vacation after completing my third-year clerkships, and my relatively minimal hands-on experience put me as the highest-ranking medically trained person on the plane. I was thrust into a relatively unfamiliar situation and forced to apply my medical knowledge in the “low-resource” setting of the airplane.

Thankfully, the passenger was stable and didn’t require more than a history and basic physical, but the experience left me wondering how I would have responded if the situation had been more serious.

After the trip, I took it upon myself to learn as much as I could about airline medical emergencies, and what my role would be in one of those situations. I am writing this post to share what I learned. This will be especially helpful to any doctor, nurse, EMT, or other medically trained personnel who reads this and finds themself called upon to respond in the future (an in-flight medical emergency is estimated to occur about once in every 10,000-40,000 travelers).

If you are a medically trained person who has responded to a medical emergency on a plane, train, or in a restaurant, or if you are a person who has been helped by a medical person while traveling, please feel free to share your experience and insight in the comments. (more…)