Researches find that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in the Office of the Chief Health and Medical Officer in Washington, D.C., considers himself the “King of Serendipity” in his career. Therefore His career in medicine began as an emergency medicine technician; or EMT, and he diligently followed a path that includes physical therapy school; medical school; because  emergency medicine and a residency that allowed him to work with Life Flight; a helicopter program that enabled him to treat patients in the air prior to arrival at the emergency room.

Emergency medicine technician

Dr. Polk served in the Air Force with crew members who prepared for potential disaster for space shuttle launches and landings. His passion for medicine and patient care merged with his passion for flight and space at his next position at NASA as chief of medical operations where he could work on NASA contributions to medicine.

He shared more about his career path, his views on healthcare and technology; and what he wished the world knew about his role; NASA contributions to medicine and the events that led him to help the Chilean government in 2010 rescue 33 miners trapped in a deep mine successfully. the one change that will occur is that we will be moving to an individualized medicine profile. Right now, we focus on population health. We focus our standards on cholesterol and hypertension, for example; and you hear numbers like 140 over 80 these are all based on population health.

Healthcare and technology

What we realized at NASA is that individuals are very unique to the point where someone may be down in cholesterol in their arteries and someone else may be able to tolerate a higher blood pressure. You really have to individualize this. Genomics and assessing different risks for different diseases as well  these are the things that will change medicine drastically.

In fact, when we met with our patients who are traveling 17,500 miles per hour; we have done telemedicine for some time; as we have been looking at things, such as changes in the back of the eye when traveling like this or doing research on the space station. There is a higher fidelity for telemedicine in our discussions with the astronauts; looking at their retina in as close to real time as possible.

The dynamic of medicine

This is one of the things that really developed over the last decade; in helping translate it down to the ground as well. Think about it. A small village in Africa, and someone is looking at the back of person’s eye; and transmitting that image in almost real time to a large tertiary care center to get a second opinion on something they see. This changes the dynamic of medicine on a global reach and it’s beyond global at NASA for expert care.