Meet the team: Flight Nurse

As a budding nursing student, Kirsty dreamed of working with the Royal Flying Doctor Service. After years of hard work and determination, that dream came true. 

Get to know Kirsty, as she reflects on her seven years as an RFDS Central Operations Flight Nurse.

Graphic: RFDS Flight Nurse Kirsty Chown

Tell us about yourself.

I grew up in the Mid North of South of Australia on a farm at Narridy, near Crystal Brook. I always knew about the RFDS and thought it was an amazing organisation. But it wasn’t until I came for a flight and understood exactly what they did that it became my dream job. 

The seed was sown many years ago at university. I was part of the "Rural Club" and did a student attachment with the RFDS during my first year. I immediately fell in love with the job and thought, “This is going to be my goal." So, I began working towards it. I got in touch with the Flight Nurse Manager at the RFDS at the time and just asked, “What do I have to do?” and just kept touching base for many years. I felt very lucky to have that mentorship.

What does a typical day for a RFDS Flight Nurse look like?

The thing about being a Flight Nurse is that there is no typical day. In the morning I could be looking after a newborn baby and transporting the mum and bub to Adelaide, then I could be going to get a cardiac patient or flying up to a remote mine or station to airlift a trauma patient. It’s different every day, which keeps it exciting and interesting – you always learn something new and you’ve got to think on your feet a lot.

What do you enjoy the most?

I’m very lucky to be in my dream job – seven years down and I still love it. We have a really amazing and dedicated team and I love this job because I’m always challenged. I get to use every facet of my nursing and midwifery, which is the most rewarding part. We also work the majority of the time autonomously with a pilot and occasionally with a doctor.

I also love the scenery – we are fortunate to see the country from a different perspective.

Graphic: RFDS Flight Nurse Kirsty Chown

What has it been like navigating the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic?

It’s been very tough. Probably the hardest couple of years of my career – and any nurse would likely say the same. Even when it comes to simple things, like just giving a patient, especially children, a smile – I’m someone who always has a smile and it’s been hard in a mask and PPE. It’s also been difficult communicating with people who may have a hearing impairment.

I think we are fatigued by the constant changes and ongoing wearing of PPE but at the same time, you adapt and continue to provide the care and support and build connections with patients in the best way you can. We’ve managed COVID-19, know a lot more about the virus, and understand that we must move forward. I feel for everyone everywhere, but particularly those working in the health system, because it has been ongoing and exhausting.

Do you have any advice for aspiring Flight Nurses?

My advice for anyone is to follow your dreams, get a mentor who you can lean on, and work out which pathway you want to take. For myself, I was doing absolutely any rural or remote and emergency/intensive care related courses and experience that I could.

Even if you’re not sure of your exact pathway, keep doing extra courses or get involved in activities that interest you. Just get in touch with us at the RFDS and find out what it takes to become a Flight Nurse.

Anyone can pursue a career in nursing – it’s just about having that compassion, empathy, and desire to get to know patients and show interest in their story. Australians in rural and remote areas especially appreciate that. We are often taking them a long way from home for health care.

What are you looking forward to at the RFDS?

I plan to keep enjoying my work as a Flight Nurse and Midwife and look forward to being able to travel to purse additional professional development opportunities now that borders have re-opened. I also look forward to undertaking a qualitative project looking at how we can improve the journey both for our patients we pick up and also those that we take home.I feel lucky to work in my dream job and only have this luxury as I have an amazing team and family around me.

RFDS Flight Nurse Kirsty Chown