flight nurse justine powell queensland

Graphic: flight nurse justine powell queensland

A nurse's life in the sky

Date published

08 Aug 2021

It was in Alice Springs while backpacking through Australia, Nurse Manager Justine Powell stumbled upon the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS).

Little did she know the Service is where she would excel in her career and meet her future husband.

At age three, Justine decided she was going to be a nurse.

“For Christmas I was given a nurse's uniform and my mum said I didn’t take it off until Easter.

“I think that’s what planted the seed. I was always wanting to look after people,” she said.

She calls nursing a dream job, something she was always destined to do.

Born in Australia, Justine’s parents moved back to the United Kingdom when she was six months old.

After growing up in the UK, at 18 she went out to explore the world and came across the Flying Doctor’s life-saving work when she visited the RFDS Alice Springs hanger.

“I sat in and watched the movie and toured the visitors centre and thought this is something I would really like to do.

“It was a dream come true when 11 years later I found myself at Brisbane Base having an interview and then being told that I had a job as a flight nurse in Rockhampton. I had to really pinch myself,” she said.

It was a long way from rainy London but from there her career soared to new heights and new temperatures.

“I’d come from an airconditioned hospital, it was definitely a challenge but one I really embraced,” Justine says.

“I remember working in Charleville and walking out in the morning and there was ice on the windscreen and that really reminded me of London in winter,” she said.

Two decades later, Justine’s had some unique experiences while flying across Queensland.

One of her favourite memories was in leaping into action when category 5, Cyclone Yasi, was sitting off the coast of Queensland.

Justine got the call up to help evacuate the Cairns Hospital Special Care Baby Unit.

“It was around 7:00pm when we were told that the airport was going to close at 4:00am and we needed to get to Cairns as quickly as possible.

“It was an interesting time because you could feel that there was this time pressure and also this uncertainty,” she said.

Four babies were put into each cot, wearing special earmuffs, and taken to the safety of Brisbane ahead of the cyclone’s landfall.

The Royal Flying Doctor Service was the last aircraft to leave before the Cairns Airport closed.

“As a midwife it is always a privilege when parents decide to use your name as their child’s middle name,” Justine said.

“There’s a few Justin’s and Justine’s out there.

“It’s always a real gift to know you’ve been able to share a little bit about yourself with the mum,” she said.

Through her work at the RFDS she’s helped many of the community’s loved ones but also found love herself.

Love was in the air when Justine met her husband, James, an RFDS pilot.

They flew together for years as colleagues and friends.

“We just realised we had this really special bond and then he proposed, and we got married,” she said.

From critical situations to flying recovered babies home from hospital, she’s had a taste of everything while flying with the RFDS (Queensland Section).

Justine now works at the RFDS Brisbane Base living out her dream she had as a toddler, encouraging others to do the same.

“As a flight nurse you really use your clinical and critical-thinking skills, so it’s a great job for anyone thinking of doing that in the future,” says Justine.

“I would just say do it. Pursue your dream like I did.”