March 09, 2022

AZ Business Magazine

Banner, UA, SpaceX partner for pioneering fellowship in aerospace surgery

Banner – University Medical Center Phoenix will host the first-ever Aerospace Surgery Fellowship beginning this July. In partnership with the University of Arizona College of Medicine – Phoenix and SpaceX, this comprehensive formal training in the field of aerospace medicine, with specific emphasis on surgical and procedural expertise, is not currently offered anywhere in the United States.

Centered in Phoenix and administered with collaborating surgeons and physicians nationally, the APEX Aerospace Surgery Fellowship will prepare physicians to work in the commercial aerospace medical field and provide austere surgical and critical care support.

An inaugural philanthropic gift of $50,000 to launch the Fellowship came from Mr. and Mrs. James E. Brophy III in honor of their parents, James and Maggie Lu Brophy, and Louis and Joann DeLacio.


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This is a unique opportunity and represents the first fellowship training program in the U.S. that goes beyond primary care medical oversight of astronauts, teaching aerospace surgery and procedural skills for aerospace missions. One goal of the Fellowship is to form a ready cadre of surgeons and other specialists to be part of the medical teams serving upcoming aerospace missions, including those launched via space programs such as SpaceX, NASA, Polaris, and also commercial missions.

The one-year Fellowship will offer several unique rotations in topics such as hyperbaric medicine, pilot orientation, flight-readiness examination, aerospace physics and physiology, and delivery of austere medical care, meaning care that is given in extreme and resource-constrained environments.

“As we learned more about the burgeoning future of space travel, the need for surgeons specifically trained to perform austere surgical procedures, and the interest and talent of our residents, it became clear that Banner and the UA College of Medicine – Phoenix should be the ‘go-to’ place for training in this unique niche,” says Nathanial Soper, MD, Chair of the College’s Department of Surgery and Physician Executive Director for General Surgery at Banner – University Medical Center Phoenix. “Individuals who train in this program will not only be qualified to support the space program personally, they will also be on the leading edge of developing the necessary tools and procedures to facilitate this exciting next phase in space exploration. I am truly excited and enthusiastic about our institution being involved in this novel undertaking.”

As the primary clinical site for the Aerospace Surgery Fellowship, Banner – University Medical Center Phoenix will afford Fellows the opportunity to experience rotations across all clinical disciplines. On-site clinical days at SpaceX will engage Fellows in health care delivery and medical evaluation of astronauts, aviators, spaceflight participants, and occupational health for SpaceX personnel. Fellows will have the opportunity to spend six months engaging in spaceflight-related activities and research with SpaceX.

Three main themes will be covered during the 12-month Aerospace Surgery Fellowship curriculum: clinical care, education, and research/innovation. The curriculum requires 28 weeks of onsite activity at one or more of the three key SpaceX locations: the company’s headquarters in Hawthorne, Calif., (near Los Angeles), Starship construction and launch site in Boca Chica, Texas, and Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla.

Learning and experiential opportunities will foster assimilation of practical skills necessary for effective support of diverse medical needs in the context of civilian, commercial and astronaut space flights. The Fellowship will allow graduates to be eligible for board certification in Aerospace Medicine and designation as a Flight Surgeon. Program graduates will be leaders in the field of aerospace medicine and evolve this unique medical specialty to be in high demand for future space missions.

The opportunity to host APEX came via its founding director, Dr. Eric Petersen, a board-certified Flight Surgeon and member of the Department of Surgery. Dr. Petersen was a member of the teams that launched astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley via Dragon Demo-2, the first crewed SpaceX launch and the first to return American astronauts to the International Space Station from U.S. soil since the retirement of the space shuttle program. Dr. Petersen attended the launch in May 2020 and the landing in August 2020, where care was provided in the medical bay he designed on the retrieval ship.

“APEX represents our collective building of the medical future of mankind in space,” says Dr. Petersen, who says people belong in space and that space is for everyone. “All of us involved in this program at UA and Banner Health believe in the same mission and we’re very excited about it. Working with SpaceX and NASA missions is simply incredible.”

Dr. Anil Menon, recent SpaceX Medical Director was tapped in December 2021 to become one of the newest NASA astronauts preparing for the Artemis lunar landing missions. He calls the APEX fellowship “groundbreaking,” adding that “in the next 10 years, I suspect one of these Fellows will be doing the first surgery in space, and hopefully, on Mars.”

The next year will involve preparation of the curriculum and site visits to ensure the APEX Fellowship will be ready to matriculate its first Fellow in July 2023. This process will be coordinated by Dr. Petersen and APEX executive director, Dr. Mira Milas, professor and vice chair of the Department of Surgery. It was the long-standing relationship of Dr. Milas with Mr. and Mrs. Brophy that was the inspiration leading to their gift to the Banner Health Foundation.

“Trailblazing is part of the heritage, legacy, and life story of the Brophy family in Arizona,” says Dr. Milas. “What an incredible honor that Mr. and Mrs. Brophy would place this trust in us and be inspired to support this pioneering effort at a galactic level. We are forever grateful for their support.”

The Banner Health Foundation is seeking philanthropic support to support the Fellowship in the first three years and to endow it permanently. Give online or contact Christy Atler, Vice President for Development, at christy.atler@bannerhealth.com or 480-710-3059 to discuss a multi-year pledge or gifts of stock, real estate, or other non-cash assets.