1. Jablonski, Laura
  2. Grypma, Sonya

Article Content

Life can lead us on some surprising routes. I [Laura] am amazed looking back over the course I've traveled. Envisioning my nursing career early on, I expected I would settle into the field of public health. However, in 2008, as I sat situated on a remote island in Canada's north, manning my post as an air ambulance flight nurse, I realized just how far from this intended course I had traveled. I wore Sorel boots to work, regularly commuted by helicopter, and cared for my patients in the open-air environments of small boats and the back of pick-up trucks-a far departure from the 9-to-5 position I had originally envisioned. Never was my intent to pursue a career traveling in small planes over the most barren parts of North America. It's a wonder I found segue into flight nursing, but after being introduced to the world of aeromedicine, I found myself enthralled with aviation.


I was not the first nurse so enamored to consider a career in aviation. The intertwining of nursing and aviation was conceived by one with the same dual interests. Ellen Church, a nurse and avid U.S. aviator, is credited with the union of the two professions in the 1930s. Employed as a nurse, yet determined to break into the aviation industry, Church approached the manager of Boeing Air Transport (later United Airlines) to propose the idea of nurses onboard passenger aircraft to tend to traveler needs-something that helped quell fears of early air passengers. Her plan approved, Church was hired by the airline and recognized as the world's first stewardess. This practice was emulated in Canada in 1938 when Trans Canada Airlines (later Air Canada) commenced regular passenger service and they too hired registered nurses to fill the in-flight attendant positions. Stewardesses' job included assisting passengers, fueling planes, screwing down loose seats, hauling luggage, and helping pilots push planes into hangars (Public Broadcasting Service, n.d.).


Having an inroad into aviation allowed nurses new ways to experience nursing at altitude. Ellen Church went on to serve as a captain in the U.S. Army Nurse Corps in World War II, earning the Air Medal for distinguished service. During the 1940s, with the recognition of the utility of aircraft in search and rescue and lifesaving missions, nurses played a pivotal role in the development of Canada's first official civilian air ambulance service. By the 1950s, nurses were trained for specialist aeromedical and pararescue positions in the Royal Canadian Air Force. Early civilian and military flight nurses were responsible for the care of the ill or injured being transported by air to centers where they could receive further treatment. Pararescue nurses had the added responsibility of jumping from aircraft, responding to the injured by parachuting to their aide (March, 2012).


These early nurse flyers truly were trailblazers. Being uniquely positioned at the forefront of the emerging aviation field in the mid-20th century allowed nurses the extraordinary opportunity to propel the profession forward by expanding their roles, skills, knowledge, and capacities as caregivers. In just a few decades, nurses were successful in bringing about a stark transformation of their occupation as they began to phase out of the commercial airline industry while enhancing their presence in aeromedical programs.


Reflecting on these stories, it strikes me how unlikely all of this could of have been foreseen from the outset, most especially by Ellen Church as she took her proposal to the airline. Likewise, when I started my nursing career, I never imagined I'd find myself in a role that so far exceeded my expectations. However, as Christian nurses, we can expect this type of experience knowing that as the Apostle Paul writes in Corinthians, "No one's ever seen or heard anything like this, never so much as imagined anything quite like it-what God has arranged for those who love him" (1 Corinthians 2:9, The Message). We are all called to something great, greater than what we can imagine, and when we lean into Christ, he will help us fulfill the calling on our lives.


March W. (2012). RCAF Nursing Sisters. The Royal Canadian Air Force Journal, 1(1), 42-45. [Context Link]


Public Broadcasting Service. (n.d.). Chasing the sun: Innovators-Ellen Church. Retrieved from