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Matt Ewend, MD

Dear UNC Health Physicians and APPs,

“Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.” – Anne Lamott

With summer officially here, I hope you have vacation plans on the books. Please unplug when you’re away – we all deserve a break and need to care for ourselves. Please encourage your teams to do the same.

Summer also means more travel (often by plane), which increases the chance that the movie you are watching from seat 23C could be interrupted by an overhead announcement: “Is there a doctor on the plane?!?”. If that happens, here are a few things to keep in mind courtesy of Abhi Mehrotra, MD, in Emergency Medicine, and Tom Shanahan, UNC Health’s Chief Legal Officer:

  • Most in-flight emergencies are managed by the flight attendants and other crew members and will not require additional assistance from a medical professional.
  • The most common in-flight emergencies are near syncope, GI and respiratory complaints.
  • When flying, it’s a good idea to bring a copy of your medical license, or at least a business card. The airline crew may need to determine who can best help.
  • Approach a patient as you would normally: introduce yourself, let them know your medical qualifications, take a history and get vital signs. Share your recommendations with the crew.
  • As you consider treatment options, be assured that most US-based airlines will also contact their ground-based medical team. You are an important link between the patient, the ground medical team and the airline crew as the pilot (who makes the ultimate decision) considers if an adjusted flight plan is needed.
  • Document the clinical information and care provided to the extent you are able. The airline may provide a form.
  • We all worry about legal protection. While Good Samaritan laws and protections vary by state and may not cover each specific situation, such laws provide immunity from civil liability for any individual who, in good faith, attempts to help someone who is injured or experiencing a medical emergency.
  • When traveling on a plane in the United States, remember your help as a medical volunteer is covered under a federal law called the “Aviation Medical Assistance Act.” It is understood that at 30,000 feet, your resources are limited and that you are doing the best you can within the scope of your training.

I hope your travels are uneventful and your vacations are amazing, but it’s always good to be prepared – many of our physicians, including me, my wife and Dr. Burks have served as the doc on the plane!

While I have you, three more key updates for June include:

  1. Leading in AI: We’re receiving national attention for our work with Artificial Intelligence – see recent examples from Healthcare IT News and Becker’s, and please email us at to sign-up for our Epic@UNC Artificial Intelligence pilot program.
  2. The Monthly Myth: Why do we wait until someone leaves their position to begin trying to hire their replacement?
    We don’t – it’s a myth! Clinical positions are posted as quickly as possible, often before the current teammate has departed. Non-clinical positions require approval by entity leadership prior to rehiring and may take longer to fill.

    The best way to fill a position is to retain our current teammates. We have good news here – compared to last fiscal year, our retention rate across UNC Health’s owned entities has improved by 3% to approximately 77%.

  3. Masks Optional in Most Areas: I hope you saw our recent announcement that masks are now optional in most areas at our owned entities. This is a positive step that I hope improves communication and work life for each of you.

Thank you for your great work – keep reaching out to with any requests or ideas to improve things in your area. Happy summer!


Dr. Matt Ewend 
President, UNC Physicians
Chief Clinical Officer, UNC Health