Kathy Hughes, MD, MPH ’09, flies through life—literally and figuratively. One of 12 pilot-physicians currently in the U.S. Air Force, she’s logged 3,500 flight hours in her 21-year career. Last year she blasted through an M.P.H. at Michigan in just two semesters. Now Hughes, 43, is completing her residency in aerospace and occupational medicine in San Antonio, Texas, and commuting back and forth to Michigan, where she and her husband, Paul, a commercial-airline pilot, are raising their sons Aidan, 10, and Gus, 7.
When she’s done with her residency, Hughes wants to become a test-pilot physician—a job that would put her SPH training, especially in statistics and operations research, to good use. “Typically,” she says, “test pilots look at aircraft characteristics. I’d like to also look at the way the human body interfaces with the airplane—whether it’s the helmet you wear, the way you interact with the cockpit, or the way your body responds to flying. As physicians we’re trained to ask questions and look at things from a different perspective.”
If flying is an American dream, Hughes says she’s living it. “Flying to me is freedom, even when I’m flying my own little airplane, just going along at 150 knots, I feel completely liberated. No tethers to the world whatsoever. It’s almost spiritual to me. The everyday hectic part of the life you have—tasks, deadlines—all of that goes away. The best times are sunsets. When you’re flying 39,000 feet during a sunset, and you can see 50 to 80 miles, and there’s that unobstructed glow across the horizon—it’s so incredibly vivid. I feel humble.”
Watch an amazing short video of Kathy Hughes climbing from sea level to 15,000 feet in 30 seconds. What do you think... is she upside down at the end?