RFDS (Queensland Section) Flight Nurse Michelle Ball

Graphic: RFDS (Queensland Section) Flight Nurse Michelle Ball

Flight nurse on the Ball

Date published

11 Aug 2021

Growing up in Brisbane, Flight Nurse Michelle Ball was familiar with the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS), but it wasn’t until a run in with the Flying Doctor in Charleville that she was inspired to join the Service.

“My first placement as a grad nurse was in south-west Queensland,” Michelle said.

“I remember a retrieval out of Charleville that involved a really unwell child and as an anxious new grad nurse I found the situation quite overwhelming.

“The RFDS came to retrieve the patient and I remember watching the flight nurse and being in awe of her calm nature and how she had the situation under control.

“I thought: ‘that’s the kind of nurse I want to be’.”

Bright-eyed and new to the nursing profession, Michelle knew she needed to gain experience to be able to work for the RFDS and take her career to new heights.

“I needed more experience to meet the RFDS Flight Nurse requirements. For me that involved concentrating on intensive care nursing, some rural and remote emergency nursing, paediatrics and becoming a registered midwife.

“I applied for a scholarship with the RFDS to complete my midwifery registration and was lucky enough to be successful.”

Since then, Michelle hasn’t looked back. In 2015, she started work as a Flight Nurse at our Mount Isa Base and quickly became a well-known and respected member of the community.

But of course, Michelle’s work doesn’t come without its challenges.

The Southern Gulf country, including Mount Isa, is home to some of Australia’s largest cattle stations.

“Anyone who’s been to outback Australia would be familiar with the vast distances between properties and from healthcare and emergency services,” Michelle said.

“Not every station has an airstrip, or the RFDS can’t always land near the accident site, so we have to be quick thinking about how to safely get to the patient.”

And often patient retrievals require assistance from the community.

Riversleigh Helicopter accident

“I remember being tasked with attending a helicopter crash, and the RFDS aircraft couldn’t land near the site.”

As luck would have it, Barkly Helicopter Pilot Nathan McDonald was in the area mustering cattle and offered to transport the RFDS crew closer to the accident.

“Of course, flying to a helicopter accident via helicopter doesn’t seem like the smartest idea! But Nathan had assisted the RFDS on another time critical incident and having firsthand knowledge of Nathan’s skills and experience as chopper pilot, I knew we were in good hands.” Michelle explained.

“Having Nathan fly us directly to the site of the accident meant we were able to start assessing and treating patients without delay.

“While we were attending to the patients our Pilot Greg King put the stretcher in the back of a ute and met us at the site.

“Once we had treated the patients, we travelled in the back of the ute to the RFDS aircraft — it really was a team effort, it always is!

 “In situations like this, every minute counts — it can be the difference of whether someone will survive or their quality of life after the accident.”

Thanks to Nathan’s help, and the expertise of our RFDS staff, the patients made a full recovery.