Today’s civilian flight nurse evolved out of the need to meet patient needs where they exist–in a pre-hospital environment. She/he represents a new breed of nurses who’ve taken to the sky to bring the highest quality Medical Care to the critically ill or injured.
Becoming a flight nurse can be fraught with untold stress and challenge as a fledgling flight nurse will tell you. The most heard phrases are: ‘It’s scary; it’s a lot to get your act together, or I didn’t see anything but the patient.’ A new nurse can wait for hours in anticipation of that first call. It is check and recheck the medical supplies to make sure all that is required in the field is in place. In nervous gesture, she may scratch down the dosage on her cheat sheet while her mind loads up with: “Will I save a life? How will I deal with triage (setting priorities)? What if I mess up? What if I forget something really important? Dear God will I make it? What if I can’t? When the call finally comes, and she lifts off, there is a prayer on her lips: “Lord, give me the strength to do what I need to do. Let me do no harm.”
The flight nurse knows that she takes on a great deal of responsibility for the life of others. At the same time, she is in the spotlight for all to see, criticize, and hold accountable, praise or support. It is not always easy to feel supported in the field because the environment can be chaotic and demanding. All she has is herself and the best possible medical training. Support will have to come later.
Each time a flight nurse goes into the field, she must be cognizant of her surroundings (what personnel are on the scene, where is the family, who is most critically injured, what decisions must be made quickly). Even if the nurse is trembling with fear, she cannot allow herself to be overwhelmed at the scene because so many are depending on her critical medical expertise. Oftentimes, the victim will be unconscious and healing has to start with family members who are devastated. A loved one is on the verge of death or may never walk or speak again. While the victim is of primary concern, family or significant others cannot be forgotten. A kind word, squeeze of the hand, and a brief explanation of what is going on helps to assuage a sense of isolation of helplessness.