Best of both worlds

We all have to make choices in life. Some are easy, some difficult, some interesting. For me personally, the most interesting choice I ever had to make was between a career as a physician and one as an airline pilot.

The year was 1999, the last year of my medical studies and I still had no idea which medical field I wanted to specialise in. Surgery, psychiatry, or family medicine? I just could not make up my mind.

I did know that I loved aviation, though. I was always scanning the sky for aircraft and I read just about every book on aviation I could get hold of. Could I maybe, just maybe, become a pilot? Even better yet, could I become a KLM pilot?

But what about my career as a physician? There are quite a lot of physicians in my family, so would it not be odd to break with ‘tradition’?

During the last year of my studies I managed to enrol in the United States Navy Aviation Medical Department as a medical exchange student. This institute runs medical checks on the navy pilots and performs research on the human aspects of flight. I had the time of my life: practice medicine and be around aircraft all the time.

I took private flying lessons and I was allowed to fly as a passenger in military aircraft. It all became crystal clear: I really wanted to fly. Once I realised this, I took the difficult decision to finish my medical studies, obtain my medical degree and then to pursue a career as an airline pilot.

My career as a pilot started with flight school and hard work, but then, I loved every minute of flying. After I graduated in 2003, pilot jobs were scarce, so I found employment as an occupational health physician for the next year and a half. During this time I saw that I enjoyed working as a physician. Had I perhaps made the wrong choice?

Or … did it really have to be a choice between both worlds? What if I could combine the two? Combine my interest in medicine and my passion for flying?

That is exactly what happened: I am fortunate to fly as an airline pilot for KLM and to pursue a career in aviation medicine at the same time. I still find the human element of flight fascinating, and it made me decide to continue to study this field, this time for a Masters degree in Aviation Medicine.

Making the right choices in life can be difficult. So realising that you made the right choices in the end and are thus able to combine the best of both worlds is a dream come true.

Jaap J. Witte