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Flying High

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Aspen Medical flight nurse on steps on air ambulance

Rather than her children flying the nest, mother Rachel Pringle left home. Literally. Together with her partner, Nick, she jetted from Christchurch, New Zealand to Brisbane, Australia.

‘I always had this dream of flight nursing in Australia once our two boys were grown-up and independent,’ she says.

Trading mountain views for vast red expanses, Rachel now works full-time as one of five flight nurses for Aspen Medical, travelling as far as Weipa, Longreach, and Mount Isa. She’s even flown overseas - to Norfolk Island - to transport a car accident casualty to hospital. 

While she says it’s not exactly like the TV series, with many routine flights taking patients to and from medical specialist appointments, Rachel loves the autonomy of her work.

The flight nurse has the final say on whether the patient is suitable for transfer. ‘It’s all about patient safety and increasing the level of care they’re receiving,’ she says.

She’s part of a small unit on the Learjet 60 aircraft. ‘It can be just be me and the patient, together with the pilots.’ And there are regular emergency flights, making her intensive care nursing background vital. ‘Then the adrenaline is really pumping but preparation calms my nerves.’

From her base at Brisbane Airport, Rachel will check the equipment daily; observation monitor, portable ventilator, and medication packs, and liaise with the doctor about each case. Together they plan for every situation, anticipating each move should a patient’s condition deteriorate on the flight.

Every day is different and she’ll have an average of three flights a week, some also requiring a doctor. A mission can last 8 to 18 hours and she’s on 24-hour call during her work shift. ‘You need the ability to work as a sole practitioner in an isolated environment.’

Rachel has retrieved COVID-positive patients from a Weipa fishing boat – ‘that was a challenge as they had limited English’ – carefully transported someone with a spinal injury to a major Brisbane hospital, and brought back a FIFO (fly-in fly-out) worker with an eye injury for specialist medical treatment.

Rachel stresses it's a team effort, ‘with the sending hospital doing a great job in preparing the patient, the ambulance arriving on time, and the pilots loading and unloading the patient. And the managerial style and support at Aspen Medical is great.’

Coming from an intensive care background, where most of her patients were unable to talk, she values the interesting conversations she now has. ‘I’ve listened to incredible life stories and tales of the Outback.’

But occasionally she’ll yearn for some peace and quiet. ‘One little girl, who’d never flown before, cried and screamed the whole way from Far North Queensland. That was a long trip.’

If you’d like to join Rachel, Aspen Medical is expanding our flight nursing team and are keen to hire both full-time and casual nurses.

Interested in a job like this?

According to Rachel to be a flight nurse, you need to be:

  • calm under pressure
  • adaptable
  • confident in your own ability, and competent
  • someone with good situational awareness
  • someone with good problem-solving skills
  • and, most importantly, kind and compassionate

For more information on becoming a flight nurse with Aspen Medical, email our Recruitment team.

 

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