RFDS Nurse Practitioner

Graphic: RFDS Nurse Practitioner

Blazing new trails: Aeromedical Nurse Practitioners

Date published

23 Jan 2024

Since volunteering for the ambulance service on Norfolk Island at 16, Hayden Wilson has focused on building his career as a nurse, culminating in a Master of Nurse Practitioner from The University of Queensland and an appointment as one of the first RFDS aeromedical nurse practitioners.

As registered nurses with a minimum of five years' experience and a postgraduate nursing qualification at the Masters level, nurse practitioners are the most senior clinical nurses in Australia’s healthcare system.

Australia’s first nurse practitioners were appointed more than 20 years ago, but while the profession is well regarded in Australia today, it is often misunderstood. This is partly due to low numbers – of more than 450,000 registered nurses and midwives in the country, only some 2,500 hold endorsements as nurse practitioners.

Hayden with aircraft

The lack of research into the effectiveness and value of the position within the Australian aeromedical context adds to the misunderstanding of the role.

RFDS has remedied that by establishing a three-year trial of aeromedical nurse practitioners in Queensland. RFDS aims to collect data about the services the three current RFDS aeromedical nurse practitioners provide. 

The results of this trial will enable the RFDS to determine the impact of this service on patient care and cost-effectiveness. Among the many benefits that aeromedical nurse practitioners bring to their role in RFDS is their extensive experience as flight nurses and their organisational knowledge.

“When you combine that with their prescribing authority, advanced assessment skills and holistic approach to patient care, this makes them highly valuable and functional members of any retrieval team,” said Hayden.

Cases which might previously have been assigned to a doctor are increasingly being tasked to aeromedical nurse practitioners.

Since volunteering for the ambulance service as a 16-year-old on Norfolk Island, Hayden Wilson has focused on building his career as a nurse, culminating in a Master of Nurse Practitioner from The University of Queensland and an appointment this year as one of the first RFDS aeromedical nurse practitioners.

“The uptake has been excellent,” said Hayden.

“Crews are able to respond faster, and doctors are being freed up to treat the most serious cases.

“Early indications are that having an aeromedical nurse practitioner on duty seven days a week has already had a positive impact.

“From the 6:00am briefing each day, we are on duty for a full 12-hour shift, so we are able to have input into decisions and work with the whole team to ensure the best patient outcomes.

“That’s very satisfying and with more than 30 successful clinical missions undertaken in the first two months of the trial, I am very excited about the future of this service.”