When the teenaged J. Ting, DO, emigrated from Taiwan to rural Virginia with his family in 1983, he didn’t know what the future would hold, and he certainly never imagined his current reality: a dual career as a board-certified emergency medicine physician now practicing telemedicine and a Boeing 747 pilot for air cargo company Kalitta Air.
Dr. Ting has a deep devotion to both medicine and aviation, but it was the advent of telemedicine that allowed him to take his aviation career to the next level.
For years, he had a “typical ER doc career” but worked as a flight instructor and commercial pilot on the side. In 2012, a telemedicine company approached Dr. Ting and he went to work for them.
‘Telemedicine freed me up’
“Telemedicine freed me up from day-to-day ER work,” he says. “I was no longer chained to an office or hospital.”
A few years later, Dr. Ting obtained a license to fly bigger planes and began working full-time for United Express and Southern Air before landing at Kalitta Air. All the while, he maintained his full-time career as a physician.
Dr. Ting believes he is “the first actively practicing physician in the world who is AOA board certified in EM and also licensed as an airline transport pilot by the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) to fly as pilot-in-command in both a Boeing 777 and a Boeing 747.”
How worlds collide
In a field as demanding as medicine, it may be difficult to imagine pursuing a second career. Dr. Ting says it was due to his awareness of the higher-than-average burnout rate in emergency medicine that he made a conscious effort to pursue his hobbies and interests.
He mixed things up by playing competitive badminton and by moonlighting part-time as an L.A. Dodgers stadium physician for a decade. Along the way, he kept pursuing his childhood dream of flying big jets.
For Dr. Ting, the worlds of medicine and aviation are not so different.
“In medicine, you see the joy on people’s faces when you make them feel better,” he says. “And in aviation, you see their joy when you take them from one place to another. As for cargo operations, the excitement is in being able to travel around the world and the sense of accomplishment I get in completing an assignment. It’s like being able to successfully treat a patient from check-in to discharge.”
But making the two careers work together was trickier until the advent of telemedicine offered new opportunities. An airline pilot has 20 hours off for every 10 hours of work, according to Dr. Ting. So, on his off hours, while in a hotel at one of the destinations he flies to across Europe, Asia and Africa, Dr. Ting logs on to his telemedicine portal and sees patients through one of the two telemedicine companies he currently works for, Teladoc and First Stop Health.
Licensed to practice medicine in 22 states, Dr. Ting, who is 50, has no plans to give up either of his two careers any time soon. His multi-state licensures give him ample opportunities in the telemedicine field. As for flying jets, the FAA limits the license for flying for an airline to age 65, which is when Dr. Ting plans to give that vocation up, assuming his vision and good health hold out.
The long road from Taiwan
Dr. Ting’s journey toward two careers has had its share of twists and turns.
He came to the U.S. with only a very rudimentary grasp of English. It would take him two years to learn the language well enough to carry on a basic conversation and another two to become fluent. In the interim, he graduated high school with a below-average GPA in a community where his family was the only one of Asian descent.
Despite the language barriers, Dr. Ting kept plugging away at his dreams.
“I wasn’t a very good student in high school,” Dr. Ting says, noting that he started off at a community college before transferring to Virginia Commonwealth.
“My story is for all the average Joes and Janes out there. I’m so thankful that things turned out well for an average student like me,” Dr. Ting says. “Flying a Boeing 747 was a seemingly impossible and unreachable dream of mine since I was a kid. I can’t believe I just achieved it last year! Always believe in your dreams and work toward them one step at a time.”