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    Taking flight


    As a healthcare traveler, you experience new sites, new faces, and new opportunities. However, if you want to give up your temporary assignment for a time to take to the air, the opportunities for flight nurses currently are sky high.

    Of course you must like flying and be ready to cope with all sorts of emergencies and remain calm in the midst of chaos. They interact with patients, families, co-workers, other professionals in the air and on the ground routinely.

    Flight nurses are patient advocates expected to be assertive when things aren't going as planned, and must be aggressive toward a commercial airline that attempts to bump patients to other flights, or when airline staff attempt to separate the nurse and patient on seating charts.

    Sound interesting? Here is an example of one flight nurse on the job.

    Recently, a preschooler was admitted to a rural mountain hospital in respiratory distress. The emergency staff, aware he needed a higher level of care, requested transport via air ambulance to Children's Hospital Colorado in Aurora. Prior to the flight, the child had to be intubated and placed on a ventilator.

    During the flight, the medical team work together to care for the critically ill child.

    "In addition to caring for the child the team supported the child's mother and allayed her fears as much as possible as they dealt cooperatively with staffs at the rural hospital and Children's Hospital," says Kathleen Mayer, MS, RN. Mayer is a former flight nurse and program director for Flight For Life, a critical care air ambulance transport service that provides medical assistance in nine states based across the Rocky Mountain region.

    Mayer says nurses serve as team leaders on all transport flight, working with paramedics and respiratory therapists. Their job also requires that they rotate among helicopters, airplanes and on the ground ambulances assignments.

    While grounded they serve as resource professionals at hospitals, affiliated with the flight company. There they assist in ICU and emergency departments and are on hand when invasive procedures are performed, such as intubation, central line insertion, chest tube thoracotomies and arterial line insertion.

    "These procedures provide grounding for flight nurse special skills needed during transports," Mayer says. The company's first helicopter air ambulance program — Flight For Life Colorado — provides 4,000 transports per year that may include mountain rescues and transports of high-risk patients in need of obstetrics, neonatal and cardiac care.

    "Our Frisco, Colo. site is the highest air medical helicopter base in the United States," Mayer says.