My career highlight is definitely becoming a flight nurse – it is absolutely the best job in the world.
The best things about it are the autonomy that it offers, and the opportunity to make a real positive impact in people’s lives – and not just the patient themselves, but also their loved ones.
Making sure patients safely get to where they need to be for potentially lifesaving treatment really is a huge buzz, and a privilege to be part of. For a lot of people, flying in a small plane or helicopter in a variety of weather conditions creates a fair bit of anxiety, on top of an already difficult time for them. It’s hugely rewarding when a patient tells you that you made a big difference to their overall experience of the healthcare system.
One is working in a constantly changing environment. Dynamic factors such as managing physiological changes to a patient inflight and fatigue on multiple transfers within a shift; weather conditions – even on a stunning day there is turbulence, managing and working autonomously in a compromised environment all add to the challenges of being a flight nurse. A huge amount of work is done behind the scenes to facilitate the transfer of patients. Kim Batten (inter-regional transport) deserves a special thank you for the work he does in assisting the flight nurses with the logistical planning for each patient transfer.
What does the job of flight nurse look like?
I work as a staff nurse in ICU .45 FTE, and .3 FTE as flight nurse which involves the transfer of patients between Taranaki Base Hospital and several hospitals throughout the country. About half of our transfers are to and from Waikato, predominately cardiac patients.
We transfer patients to other centres for further treatment not offered in Taranaki, and return patients to Taranaki who require further care after receiving treatment at other hospitals. We also repatriate patients from Taranaki who’ve had an accident or fallen ill while visiting other parts of the country.
Other hospitals we frequently visit include Auckland City, Middlemore, Palmerston North, Wellington and Christchurch, but can find ourselves pretty much at any hospital in the country.
It is not unusual to go to 3 or 4 different hospitals in one day.
Our day typically starts at 8am, and we never really know where we might be off to that day, or what time we’re likely to get home. Generally our workday will be anywhere from 8 - 12 hours.
A big part of our job is thorough assessment of patients pre-transfer – as a nurse led transfer service we’re solely responsible for the care of that patient during the transfer.
A memorable experience
We had a patient who I’d cared for a number of times in ICU and got to know him and his family quite well. He was on the transplant list awaiting a liver but was currently in hospital. I was arriving for a night shift in ICU at 6.30pm when I ran into his daughter who had tears streaming down her face, telling me they’d just received a phone call saying a liver had been found and he needed to get to Auckland ASAP. That evening I flew him and his wife to Auckland City Hospital where the transplant team was ready and waiting on our arrival. It was a successful outcome and really special to be part of such a life changing event for him and his family.
Nursing was always something that interested me due to the opportunities to work in so many different areas and the job security (especially since 2020!). My mum who’s a nurse at TDHB finally convinced me to give it a go.
I’ve been nursing for eight years, having completed my Bachelor of Nursing here at WITT. I did my first year as a new grad in the Emergency Department before moving to ICU. After two years in ICU I landed my dream job of flight nursing.
Further studies include completing my post-grad certificate, a flight nurse course in Wellington, as well as the numerous study days, remaining current in Advanced Life Support (ALS) and Paediatric Life Support (PALS).
My inspiration for going to work each day is making a real positive impact on people’s lives. It sounds a bit altruistic but flight nurses get the opportunity to guide a patient through what can be a very stressful experience. Good communication, reassurance and empathy can make a huge difference for the patient.
Right now I feel like I have the perfect job – it offers the balance of working in a team environment in ICU and the autonomy and variety of flight nursing. I hope to get involved in international aeromedical transfers at some point when the world gets back to some sort of normality.