Article: Psychiatrist Fights Stress with Aerobatics

  • Image of Dr. John Dale

    by Mike Tenszen
    February, 1979, Canadian Aviation

    Tucked beside a volume of “Psychosomatic Medicine” on Dr. John Dale’s office bookshelf are binoculars and a VHF receiver. The walls are decorated with a curious collage of airplane photographs and Inuit art. The art is a spillover from his past as an Arctic doctor and the photos reflect his “hobby.”

    Dr. Dale, a 34-year-old resident in psychiatry, claims he is only occasionally distracted enough from his medical duties to watch and listen to airplanes using Toronto Island Airport – a few miles south of his workplace on the 11th floor of the Clark Institute of Psychiatry.

    Dale loves medicine and flying – in no particular order. His ignition to flight was with his father, an RAF pilot, who carried his six-year-old son aloft in a Harvard military trainer at an RAF base in his native England. “I had the controls when I was eight and did my first loop when I was fourteen.” Air cadet training followed and so did thoughts of an airline career but he eventually opted for medicine.

    After graduating from the Royal College of Surgeons at Dublin in 1969, Dale figured it was time to sign on for some official flight training. But England’s flying schools were quite expensive, he said, compared to ones in North America. That fact, coupled with the young doctor’s desire to see some of the world, prompted him to come to Canada.

    He obtained his private license in 1971 then answered an ad in a Vancouver newspaper for a doctor/pilot who wished to work in northern B.C. Dale became a flying doctor working for Dr. Doug Mann of Burns Lake, B.C. For the next two years, he swooped around in his own Bellanca Citabria on rounds to isolated communities.

    Later he worked with Medevac teams and logged some hours on various twin-engine ambulance airplanes, including DHC-6 Twin Otters. “There were times when it would have been very difficult for a non-flying doctor to make a decision on an evacuation in poor weather,” he said.

    Dale eventually left the north and enrolled in psychiatry at the Clarke Institute. At Toronto he ties down his two-seat Bellanca Decathalon at Maple Airport, just north of the city and flies on weekends. About one-third of his total time has been logged doing aerobatics.

    “In a sense, aerobatics is using a form of stress as a treatment for another form of stress,” said Dale. “But flying aerobatics is an entirely different form of stress and is incredibly relaxing – you are drained at the end of it. It is completely different from the annoying tensions that a doctor inherits at the end of the day.”

    Dale is surprisingly candid about the long-held contention by some flight instructors that doctors make lousy pilots. “Doctors are all the time stressed with the dangers of others – I think that when they hop into a plane their level of fear is far less than others people’s because it doesn’t seem to them to be very dangerous. The doctor has inherited from his job a certain tendency to view himself as fairly omnipotent anyway. Flying instructors say they can’t teach a doctor anything – he thinks he knows it already. This may be why flying doctors sometimes don’t take as much care as other people do.”

    Several years from now, Dale hopes to combine two strong interests in his life. He wants to be a visiting psychiatrist in northern BC – working out of an office in a small community. The job will entail a great deal of travel over large distances.

    It would be foolish to ask about his means of travel …

    Image of Dr. John Dale

    This article originally appeared in the February, 1979 edition of Canadian Aviation magazine. Photo credit to Steve Brooks.

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