Abu Dhabi, UAE: An Emirati doctor has made it her life’s work to make sure those employed in the aviation industry are physically and mentally healthy.
Dr Nadia Bastaki can be described as a pioneer.
She is the first Emirati woman to be registered as a specialist in aviation medicine, which deals with preventive or occupational medicine for pilots, aircrews, or persons involved in space flight.
She wanted to be a family doctor and it was only later in her studies that she decided to aim for what she described as “a unique medical specialism”.
Dr Bastaki was inspired by Professor John Ernstring, a British doctor who was Queen Elizabeth’s honorary surgeon before becoming president of the International Academy of Aviation and Space Medicine.
Prof Ernstring died in 2009, and Dr Bastaki says she will always be grateful to him.
“He advised me that before specialising I needed to gain the strongest medical foundation possible.
“I will always be indebted to him. I continued my training in the family medicine programme at the Dubai Health Authority,” she said.
It was only after she felt her medical knowledge was sufficient that she enrolled in a postgraduate aviation medicine programme at King’s College London.
“The course was so engaging and diverse, blending theory with practical experience, which put me in very difficult situations at times. Aviation medicine does not simply cover commercial pilot health care or cabin crew well-being, but military scenarios including accident and emergency situations they may encounter.”
She described situations where students were given real-life scenarios that pilots could face.
Aviation medicine “treats or prevents conditions that aircrews are particularly susceptible to. It also deals with diagnosis or treatment that may interfere with a patient’s ability to fly. It is a critical component of aviation safety,” Dr Bastaki said.
“It is focused on physiology – the body and how it works. As an aviation medical specialist you learn about high-trauma injuries, high-stress environments, post-accident or post-evacuation, for example.”
She was hired by Etihad Airways in 2007, and last year was promoted to vice president of medical services, making her the youngest person in the company of such rank.
Much of her job involves checking if pilots and cabin crew are fit to fly.
“We have to consider how their work environment may affect any illness or disease that they have, or may become exposed to. We carry out risk assessments to see how affected the patient is likely to be by a high altitude environment,” she said.
Dr Bastaki also deals with the psychological and mental health of pilots, an issue that was highlighted by the Germanwings crash in the Alps last month in which 150 people died.
For Dr Bastaki, her work involves examining how pilots respond to extreme environments, such as air pressure, altitude, temperatures, and low light environments.
Despite her high-ranking job, she says she makes sure she looks after her own health.
“Finding a good work-life balance is so important. But it can be difficult to juggle so many things at once. In order to strike the right balance you should always put yourself first,” she said.
Her tip for success was to be confident in oneself.
“You have to believe in what you do, your passion and have respect for your work – this will drive people to respect and believe in you,” she said.
© The NationalApr 2015