The doctor who saves lives in the air Dr Mathis Nharingo

Peter Matika, [email protected] 

DR Mathis Nharingo, or Dr Matt as he is fondly known, is not your ordinary doctor. He is a flight doctor, a rare and specialised profession that involves providing medical care to patients on board an aircraft.

Dr Matt is one of the few flight doctors in Zimbabwe, a country where air medical services are becoming increasingly important and accessible. Air medical services are the use of aircraft, such as planes and helicopters, to transport patients who need urgent or critical care to a hospital or a clinic.

Dr Matt’s job is not easy. He has to deal with the challenges of flying, such as altitude, pressure, noise, and turbulence, while performing complex procedures and treatments on his patients. He also has to co-ordinate with a small team of nurses, paramedics, and pilots, and ensure the safety and comfort of his patients during the flight.

Dr Matt graduated from the University of Zimbabwe, College of Health Sciences, with a Bachelor in Medicine and Surgery degree. He then pursued his passion for flight medicine, which he developed after witnessing a helicopter rescue operation when he was a child. He underwent rigorous training and certification to become a flight doctor, and joined the Air Rescue Services of Zimbabwe, a leading provider of air medical services in the country.

Dr Mathis Nharingo (left) with a colleague

Dr Matt has saved many lives on land and in the air, and has earned the respect and admiration of his colleagues and patients. He is a hero without a cape, who uses his skills and knowledge to make a difference in the world. 

“I graduated in 2017 and did my internship at Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals from April 2017 until May 2019. I joined Halsted’s Aviation Corporation Medical (subdivision of Halsted’s Aviation Corporation) in 2019. I later assumed the role of flight doctor after doing some emergency courses and aviation medicine,” said Dr Matt.

The first thought that comes to mind is, “Does he pilot the air rescue ambulance?” For the time being, the answer is emphatically no. 

“The title flight surgeon is a bit confusing because most of these doctors are not pilots, nor do they perform surgery. However, they do work to help crew members navigate extreme stress and medical problems they face while working in the air or in space. My dream is to fly one day. I am not qualified to fly either a plane or a helicopter. Perhaps this is the other reason which led me here.

“We have a flight team, which comprises competent, well dedicated and hardworking pilots who are also well versed in emergencies. We work as a team and our efforts complement each other. Together we make sure care and treatment is instituted to our patients within the golden hour. This implies we work co-operatively to reduce morbidity and mortality,” Dr Matt said.

He added that practicing aviation medicine was thrilling and that he couldn’t imagine doing anything else.

“I can confidently say that since I started flying, I have been enjoying my career so far, and for a doctor who loves flying, what better career choice could there be? Practicing aviation medicine is very similar to practicing regular clinical medicine. It’s just that all of my work focuses entirely around aviation, which I love. The field is so diverse and broad, apart from saving lives there is also intense learning every day,” said Dr Matt.

He said information spans from emergency medicine to aviation medicine. 

“Aviation medicine is an excellent career option for those wishing to work in medicine, but who also crave some excitement. It also offers a schedule that is far from routine. On another hand sometimes I have few off days and may work on-call to help treat critical patients. Because of this I may not have a good work-life balance or may have to schedule my personal life around my job,” Dr Matt said.

He said since he began his career in aviation rescue he has performed and has been involved in more than 50 rescue missions. “It’s very difficult to keep record of the number of medvacs I have done, especially when you are enjoying every moment. But as a marker of progress career wise it’s really important to keep track of them. I’m sure I have been involved in more than 50 successful rescue missions since I started flying,” said Dr Matt.

He said aviation medicine is growing rapidly and urged the youth to take it up. 

“The field is so broad and there are many roles to choose from. Aviation medicine is rapidly growing at the moment with the aim of providing timely emergency care to everyone, hence reducing mortality rates. By taking this as a career the youth can make a real difference to people’s lives by helping to alleviate pain and suffering,” said Dr Matt.

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