Daniel Berry, DO, is the FAA’s Regional Flight Surgeon for the Central Region, which includes Iowa, Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska. He’s also the chair of the American Osteopathic Board of Preventive Medicine, a designation he says is his most significant accomplishment. Following is an edited Q&A.
If there’s a common misconception about the work you do, what is it and how do you dispel it?
A common misconception is that the FAA denies giving medical certification to a lot of pilots because of their medical conditions. Approximately 9 percent of pilots have a medical condition which, if not adequately treated or controlled, could present a risk to flying safety.
However, after the pilot has those conditions treated and shows the FAA that their medical condition is under control, they can receive a special issuance medical certificate. After providing this information, only 0.1 percent of pilots do not receive a medical certificate. That means that 99.9 percent of all pilots get a medical certificate and can fly.
What’s your proudest achievement?
I am the Chair of the American Osteopathic Board of Preventive Medicine. Our board provides specialty certification for physicians who have completed medical school, residency training in their specialty and other requirements necessary to be board certified. We provide board certification in aerospace medicine, occupational medicine, public health, correctional medicine and undersea and hyperbaric medicine.
People would be surprised if they knew that you …
I was on The Dating Game on TV three times. I was one of only three people who were on three episodes of that TV show. The first time I was on, the audience and the producers really liked my answers and the ratings were high. So they had me come back two more times.
No, I was never selected. It turns out that it was the audience that liked my answers, not the girls asking the questions. For several years after that, every time the show had a rerun, I would get the whole set of consolation prizes over again.
Tell us about the work you did before coming to the FAA.
Before coming to the FAA, I was a flight surgeon in the U.S. Air Force. I had not planned on staying with the Air Force after doing my payback for the scholarship to medical school, but that all changed because each assignment that I had was exciting. I loved everything, from flying in fighter aircraft to traveling all over the world in cargo planes.
The Air Force gave me the opportunity to manage an entire department of flight medicine, then made me a squadron commander. Eventually, the Air Force placed me in charge of all biological defense for the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines in a joint assignment with management of over 500 people and a Fiscal Year Defense Plan budget of $1.2 billion.
What’s your hidden talent?
Medical device development. Before I went to medical school, I got a PhD degree in biomedical engineering. I have a few medical device patents. One of my assignments in the Air Force was developing medical devices and medical software at the Human Systems Program Office.
One day I was asked to do some modeling. I had done a lot of mathematical modeling of biological systems while working on my degree, so I was excited and thrilled that someone wanted to use my skills. However, when I showed up to do the modeling, they just wanted me to stand by the equipment and take a picture of me using it. I was so disappointed—that was not the type of modeling I thought that I would be doing.
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
An astronaut. Before I started school, I watched with amazement the rocket launches in the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo space programs and was thrilled as a 12-year-old to see Neil Armstrong land on the moon. While I did not become an astronaut, I did become an aerospace medicine specialist and provided support to NASA for space shuttle launches and landings, and I worked at the U.S. Air Force Space Command.
What’s your favorite movie and why?
The Martian, staring Matt Damon, is about an astronaut who was left behind on Mars when his crew thought that he was dead. The movie shows his struggle to survive and the efforts of NASA and his crew to rescue him. Unlike other science fiction movies, this movie depicts a scenario that could really happen and could happen soon. It is inspirational and gives most people the desire to see humans go to Mars.
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