What is the FAA HIMS AME training course and who can take the same?

I recently had the pleasure of attending the FAA’s HIMS AME training course. HIMS stands for Human Intervention Motivational Study and is described as follows:

“HIMS is an occupational substance abuse treatment program, specific to pilots, that coordinates the identification, treatment, and return to work process for affected aviators. It is an industry-wide effort in which managers, pilots, healthcare professionals, and the FAA work together to preserve careers and enhance air safety.”

The course was attended by Aviation Medical Examiners (AMEs) like me, Psychiatrists, Psychologists, Neuropsychologists, and pilots. Many of the pilots told their stories of how HIMS not only saved their careers but also saved their lives. It was deeply moving and motivating to see people who climbed back up from rock bottom to eventually become HIMS leaders to help others. Most of the pilots were there as volunteers using their time off because they were so dedicated to give others the help they once needed.

Rather than focusing on the details of the HIMS Airline Pilot Medical Exam or the FAA Private Pilot Medical Certificate that can be obtained through HIMS, I would like to share some of the great takeaways from my experience.

One speaker asked the crowd what quality most characterized an addict who was truly engaged in recovery.  I was surprised to hear that the answer was gratitude. But then speaker after speaker talked about their fall down to the darkest depths, how much they appreciated all of the people who helped them along the very challenging climb back to really living, and how it motivated them to help others.  Every time I asked one of the pilots there about their experiences, they would give me their phone number and request that I give it to any pilots struggling like they once did. These pilots were offering their support to total strangers who I might meet in the future in my work as an AME. The selflessness was truly incredible.

Waiting for my flight home, I sat next to a pilot in the terminal who told me his story.  One of the triggers for him hitting rock bottom was finding out that his spouse had been seeing another man for a year without the pilot knowing. She was now his ex-wife, she married the other man, and took custody of the children.  Some years have passed, and he not only is back in his kids’ lives, but he actually socializes with his ex-wife and her husband. His capacity for forgiveness astounded me. Again, he handed me his card and said if I came across any pilots looking for a sponsor, friend, or just an ear to listen, I should share his information.

The HIMS program itself is incredibly rigorous. The pilot first has inpatient treatment and/or intensive outpatient treatment, then aftercare plus 90 recovery group meetings (like AA) in 90 days during which they engage a HIMS AME. The HIMS AME sees the pilot at least monthly and does random drug and alcohol testing. The pilot goes to a HIMS trained Psychiatrist, a HIMS trained Neuropsychologist, and meets regularly with their Chief Pilot and Peer Pilot if they fly for an airline. Once all of the specialists and the HIMS AME agree the pilot is in recovery and ready to reapply for a medical certificate, pages and pages of reports, medical records, and letters are collected, organized, and submitted to the FAA. This is done electronically along with an Airline Pilot Medical Exam or on paper if the goal is an FAA Private Pilot Medical Certificate. The HIMS AME serves as the lead of the treatment team and monitors the pilot and his or her support system and collateral contacts.

Another interesting admission by many of the pilots in recovery was how well they hid their addiction.  While it may be scary to think of a pilot who was just drinking in charge of your flight, many pilots told me they were able to stop before they were due to work then start again once off duty. Their copilots, friends, and families often had either no idea how much they were drinking or even that they were drinking at all.  Fortunately, most airlines have very clear protocols on taking impaired pilots off duty immediately and starting treatment.

I was extremely impressed by the comprehensive nature of the HIMS program and how many airline administrators and leaders were at the training so they could support their pilots. The FAA leadership at the training were very clear about how much HIMS has improved aviation safety by significantly reducing the likelihood of a pilot remaining on the job while impaired. I am excited to start supporting pilots on their recovery journey as their HIMS AME.

If you have questions about HIMS or are looking to connect with pilots who can assist someone with recovery, please contact us at Aviation Medicine by phone (727) 648-2402, or email aweinberg@medavex.org.

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