The Physical Qualification

The United States Antarctic Program Physical Qualification Process (PQ)


Photo: Me driving to one of my many medical exams!

What can I do beforehand?

There’s not much to do before your paperwork arrives to help your PQ process. I was eager to knock some if it out of the way, but I really couldn’t. I had to wait. The University of Texas Medical Branch sends an email with a smart .pdf document. As you complete your medical history on the form it autopopulates a checklist of the things you need done; until you complete this form you won’t know which tests you need.

Blood/Lab Work

Everyone has to complete labwork collection through LabCorps. If there is not a LabCorps near you then you can go elsewhere but it makes the process a little more difficult. There’s a “Required Polar Panel” list of labs you need to get done. This includes:

Polar Panel

  • Complete Blood Count with Differential
  • Blood Chemistries (Na; K; Cl; Ca; Glucose, Serum; Creatinine, Serum; GRF/BUN)
  • Hepatic Panel (Alkaline Phosphatase; Total Bilirubin; AST (SGOT); ALT (SGPT))
  • Lipid Panel (Cholesterol; HDL; LDL; Triglycerides)
  • Hepatitis B Total Core Antibody
  • Hepatitis C Antibody
  • RPR (Syphilis)
  • Blood Type (ABO and Rh)
  • MMR Titer
  • HIV

Cool news here is that LabCorp doesn’t require an appointment. I made one anyway just in case but I didn’t have to.

Doctor Physical

The next step is to visit my Primary Care Physician and get a bunch more physical and lab stuff done. Unfortunately I haven’t seen a PCP since… 2012? so I didn’t really have one. Luckily I called my old doctor and they have a nurse practitioner who can do all the tests but their only available appointment was 7am tomorrow. Woo waking up early! There I have to complete:

  • TDap (Pertussis) vaccine
  • Influenza vaccine (even though I had the flu only 2 months ago!)
  • Medical Self History Examination
  • Polar Physical Examination
  • Tuberculin Skin Test (PPD)
  • EKG (12 lead EKG with tracing)
  • Gallbladder Ultrasound

Remember how I said the form auto-completes the checklist? Here are some things on the list that I don’t need to get thanks to my age and medical history:

  • Exercise Stress Test with MD Interpretation
  • Pulmonary Function Test, Pre/Post Bronchodilator
  • Occupational Pulmonary Function Test (Spirometry)
  • Guaiac Stool Test
  • Mammogram Radiology Report
  • Chest X-ray

Polar Physical Examination

It has two pages in the packet.

  • Vital Signs (height, weight, BP, Pulse, BMI, Framingham Risk Score)
  • Vision with/without correction
  • General appearance
  • Head and neck
  • Eyes
  • Ears
  • Nose
  • Mouth
  • Thyroid
  • Lymph nodes
  • Chest and lung
  • Breasts (not deferrable)
  • Heart
  • Abdomen
  • Inguinal, include hernia
  • Genitalia (not deferrable)
  • Rectal (not deferrable)
  • Spine
  • Upper extremities
  • Lower extremities
  • Skin
  • Vascular
  • Neurologic
  • Emotional Status
  • Pelvic Exam (not deferrable)
  • Overall fitness

Dental Exam

Dental was a slight concern of mine simply because it’s a huge unknown. However, my dentist (who normally has a 6-week scheduling timeframe) was able to squeeze me in this morning 30 minutes after I received my packet! Woo hoo.

For this part you need to get:

  • Dental Exam
    • chart all missing teeth, restorations, missing teeth, and endodontically treated teeth
    • this part also asks the doctor to list all work done… my dentist wasn’t sure what to include so he gave me my entire dental record from the time I was 6 years old xD
  • Third Molars
    • there’s a list of conditions that would make your third molars (aka wisdom teeth) problematic and if any of these conditions exist you need to have them removed 3 weeks before your deployment
    • I had mine removed years ago so I get to skip this part!
  • Radiographs
    • Set of four original bitewing x-rays mounted showing crestal bone and all posterior teeth and contacts clearly
    • Panoramic and/or mounted full mouth survey
    • A periapical (PA) film of all endodontic work, crowns, and extensive restorations (I don’t have any of these!)
  • Orthodontics
    • This section contains some info on what you have to do if you have active braces, etc… from what I can tell as long as you can stabilize your progress then you can get clearance

My dentist and his assistant do not know how to email x-rays but they gave me the hard copies. They have someone come in on Monday that will figure out the email part for them. Ha!

The final part of the packet is some consent paperwork and the like and an agreement to join a “walking blood bank”. There must be vampires in Antarctica.

But that’s it. That’s the whole PQ. I might not have all my results by this weekend but at least I can say I completed all of my visits within 24-hours of receiving my packet. My interviewer laughed when I said I’d get it all done within hours. Ha. Boo-yah.

Thank goodness for awesome medical staff!

Who Pays for All These Tests?

FAQ: Anything my insurance doesn’t cover I pay out of pocket and then just send the bills to USAP. They will reimburse the costs of any tests I need. They will not pay for any treatments or follow-up tests I need related to the items.

post image is my actual x-ray from today! woo hoo!

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