1. Hayes, Kimberly Drummond BS

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I've always been captivated by flight nursing. Imagine flying a thousand feet above the ground at approximately 150 miles/hour, while a pilot and two flight nurses rush to transport a patient in need of emergency medical attention to an advanced tertiary care center. As a nursing student, I was lucky enough to experience this firsthand! One of my nurse friends told me about this opportunity, so I decided I was going to be an observer on a medical evacuation (medevac) helicopter. I had no idea what to expect and was nervous and excited at the same time.


Before I left my house, I was instructed to call the Allegheny County (Pa.) Airport where the helicopters are based (or "home," as the flight team says) to make sure the helicopter was in service that day. Upon my arrival, I had paperwork to complete, including a personal profile, patient confidentiality agreement, and liability waiver. I was given a tour of the base and completed a mandatory Federal Aviation Administration helicopter orientation. One of the flight nurses took me into the helicopter and showed me exactly what to do in case of a call, including where to plug in my helmet so I could communicate with the rest of the crew.


Suddenly, an extremely loud alarm went off throughout the entire base. We'd gotten our first call of the shift. Everything was happening so quickly. Two flight nurses, the pilot, and I put on our helmets as we ran to the helicopter, taking additional emergency supplies with us. We were in the air in what seemed to be less than 5 minutes. "Male patient," "88 years old," and "active heart attack" are a few of the phrases that I heard the nurses say.


Our mission was to fly from home base to a local community hospital, where we picked up our patient for transport to a larger hospital that had a cardiac catheterization lab and percutaneous coronary intervention capabilities. The patient was alert and oriented. Although he seemed frightened, he remained calm. The flight nurses worked quickly and efficiently. One administered I.V. fluids and medications while the other closely monitored the patient's vital signs and cardiac rhythm. We arrived at our destination swiftly and safely, and the patient went directly into the catheterization lab. Then the flight nurses and I were on our way back "home" to wait for the next call.


I gained priceless experience from my observational shift with the medevac team that day. I'm even more interested in flight nursing now than ever before. The adrenaline rush, the fast-paced critical care environment, the helicopter flight, and the satisfying feeling of helping someone in desperate need were unlike anything I'd ever experienced. After graduating from nursing school, I plan to obtain the required 3 years' experience as an RN at the critical care level and get back in the sky as a flight nurse as soon as I possibly can.


If you're interested in an observer experience, go to the website for the medevac services in your geographic area to determine if they have an observation program. These websites usually list the basic requirements for their observer program, such as minimum age and maximum weight limit, and whom to contact if interested. Additional guidelines and information may be included, depending on the provider. Keep in mind that the observer program may be active only at certain times of the year and may have a long waiting list.


If you're interested in learning about air medicine, flight nursing, emergency patient care and transport, helicopter operations, and safety in and around a helicopter, observing a flight crew in action may be for you.