Sqn Ldr Bonnie Posselt is a RAF doctor specialising in Aviation and Space Medicine.
Who are you and what do you do?
I am a doctor in the RAF specialising in Aviation and Space Medicine. I read medicine at Manchester University, and joined the university Air Squadron which introduced me to life in the RAF. I have always been interested in all things aviation related since being in Air cadets at school and learning to fly. However, I was really alerted to this sub-speciality of medicine when I pursued a BSc intercalated degree in Aerospace Physiology at King’s College London. I loved learning about the effects of these extreme altitude environments and how to protect against them. We carried out research in the hypobaric chambers looking at the effect of exercise on acute hypoxia, and I presented my findings a few years later at the Aerospace Medical Association conference as a poster.
After university I undertook my military training and general medical duties before embarking on the Acute Care Common Stem (Acute Medicine) physician training pathway in London hospitals. When the time came for me to choose a speciality to continue my higher training, I was lucky that the RAF decided to support me through the 4 year training programme of the newest Medical Speciality.
What does your role involve?
There is no ‘normal day’ in Aviation and Space Medicine. As part of the training, I rotate through the different departments of Aircrew Equipment Integration, Aircraft Accident Investigation, training Aircrew in High G on the human centrifuge and hypoxia experience in the hypobaric chambers, as well as conducting trials on new pieces of protective equipment and making fitness to fly decisions. There’s a lot of travel as all of the facilities the UK has are spread out across the country. A large part of my job is to understand the aviation environment, so I jump at any opportunity to head down to the Squadrons to have a look at all the different aircraft.
The aviation environment is similar in many ways to the Space environment, which is an aspect of the subject that really excites me.
What do you enjoy most about your role? And what is the most challenging part?
I love the international nature of the job and constantly learning about how we can push the boundaries of human physiology in these extreme environments.
As one of only a few trainees nationally, it can be difficult to know what the next step is. However the benefit to that is that I can help shape it.
Where do you want to be in 5/10 years?
Hopefully I will have completed training, and will be a consultant in Aviation and Space Medicine, and I very much hope that the speciality will grow in the UK with many more doctors able to train in it.
When did you become interested in space?
When I was 10 I visited the Kennedy Space Centre with my dad and was hooked on Space. I joined a local astronomy club and studied it to GCSC outside of school. Additionally I was a member of the Air Cadets at school and was introduced to flying. A love of science and flying naturally lead me into joining the RAF and I haven’t looked back.
How did you get your job? Was it easy?
I was very lucky that at the right time in my training the RAF were looking to recruit a trainee, but it wasn’t easy, I had prepared myself by joining relevant societies and going to conferences in the subject, I took an extra year at Uni, I pestered people in the speciality to ask questions, all so that I could demonstrate my interest and determination. I’ve been told many times not to put all my eggs into one basket and have a fall back option, to do something safer, have an Option B, as it’s risky going into a speciality that is so small, but I wouldn’t want to do anything else. So my advice would be to think about it, and if it’s what you want then always aim for Option A.
Is there anything you wished you’d learned at university that would come in useful now?
University is a great time to explore and investigate all avenues and career options, but don’t focus on it too much, make sure you don’t forget to enjoy yourself! There’s lots of time for serious work later on in life. If you like flying, then definitely consider joining the University Air Squadron, it’s completely non-committal and will give you the opportunity to fly, travel, do sport and make friends for life.
What decisions or opportunities you took do you think significantly influenced the fact you got that job?
- Joining the University Air Squadron, definitely.
- Submitting my undergraduate work from my Aerospace Physiology BSc to the Aerospace Medical Association Conference in 2011. It was in Alaska, which was expensive for me to travel to as a new doctor with lots of student debt, but I won the Young Investigators Prize from the Space Medicine section for my poster, and it introduced me to professionals in the subject worldwide.
What's your favourite...
I know it’s cheesy but I just love Armageddon.
Anywhere my family are, but I also think that Roatan, a small island off the coast of Honduras is particularly beautiful with its west facing crescent bay, and it’s where I learnt to scuba dive.
I enjoy all types of sports, particularly running, basketball and kitesurfing. I also love to travel and experience different countries and cultures.
I don’t really have much time for TV, but I loved Red Dwarf when I was growing up.
I’m not particularly fussy. I love a good BBQ with friends on a long warm summer’s evening and I also have a sweet tooth.
‘Nobody ever sets out to make a mistake’
It’s not really a quote as such but it really stuck with me during my training in human factors, and I now have a completely different approach to when anything adverse happens and how important it is to avoid blame.
What advice would you give to people looking for a job in your industry?
Start networking and talking to doctors in this sector, if you want to find out more about the speciality, it’s a small family really. A first step would be to attend the annual Royal Aeronautical Society Aerospace Medicine Grand round that is held at its London HQ in December time. Nearly everybody from the UK aerospace medicine sector will be there.
What is the most exciting space thing you’ve seen or heard about?
It’s got to be Space X and the potential to use commercial organisations to drive progress in the exploratory space race. In the UK, I’m really looking forward to seeing a space port and the opportunities that brings. In the military we will be introducing the F-35 fighter jet, which is also really exciting and brings lots of AvMed challenges. So it’s a really exciting time to be involved in this developing growth sector.
If you were a member of UKSEDS, how did it benefit your career?
The ability to connect with and talk to other like-minded people is important to keep driving you and keeping you motivated. It can be difficult to talk about Space Medicine on a normal hospital ward, people think that you’re crazy!
Heidi is a PhD student researching stellar variability using SuperWASP at The Open University.
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