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COVID-19 prompts demand for highly skilled flight nurses

COVID-19 prompts demand for highly skilled flight
Photo: COVID-19 prompts demand for highly skilled flight nurses
The COVID-19 pandemic has led to an increase in aeromedical retrieval and hence, increased demand for qualified and highly skilled flight nurses.

With the number of people remaining at home for both work and play on the rise - including in regional and remote areas, combined with continuing cases of coronavirus, the need for critically ill or injured patients to be transferred via air has become more frequent.

What happens during the time it takes to transfer a patient from their current location to an appropriate medical facility can mean the difference between life and death.

Which is why high-quality care is essential, and flight nurses are a critical element to the professional health team required to ensure the safe transfer of patients.

With so much at stake, flight nurses must be highly skilled and trained to perform emergency medical care. Not only that, they must embody the necessary characteristics to handle high-stress situations in an atypical work environment, where quick decisions are often required.
It was this pandemic fall out, plus a long-term passion for aeromedical retrieval, that was the catalyst for the College of Nursing and Midwifery’s new Masters of Aeromedical Retrieval, set to commence in 2021.

The course was the brain child of Adjunct Senior Lecturer, Paul Bell, who was working for the Australian Defence Force as the Brigade Welfare Officer, when he floated the idea for the course, that will provide flight nurses with even more advanced skills and knowledge within this increasingly important field. 

“The intent is for clinical practitioners in the aeromedical retrieval field to be the student base,” says Adj Prof Bell.

“This includes Flight Nurses, Retrieval Medical Officers, Intensive Care Paramedics and Logistic Staff.”

The course, aimed at both the domestic and international market, especially the Asia-Pacific region, will be extremely important in the post COVID-19 world, he says.

“Aeromedical retrieval will still need to occur as the need has not abated due to the pandemic,” says Adj Prof Bell.

“International and domestic retrieval will still need to occur.”

Though the course is both international and national, it is expected that the Northern Territory’s expanse will be used as an example of rural and remote retrievals.

“This course will enable both clinicians and logisticians to plan and deliver care in line with fiscal and resource responsibility, best practice aeromedical retrieval and creative and critical thinking,” says Adj Prof Bell.

“COVID-19 will put a strain on aeromedical retrieval resources as the virus is highly contagious, and thus may limit the number of patients on flights.

“It also has an impact on cleaning equipment and aircraft post retrieval. All this adds up to extensions in time and resources.”

It is expected that most of the personnel that enrol in either the Master or Graduate Certificate of Aeromedical Retrieval will already be already working in the specialty.

“This course enables them to focus on the development of critical thinking and understanding the intricacies of the underlying principles that underpin efficient and effective aeromedical retrieval.”

Recently, government funding was announced to allow aeromedical services to evaluate initial and suspected coronavirus cases, deliver fly-in GP respiratory clinics in the case of a broader outbreak, and supply and replenish personal protective equipment for frontline medical staff.

“The significance of NT Government funding is that they appreciate that COVID-19 will need to be at the forefront of logisticians and clinician minds when planning retrievals,” says Adj Prof Bell.

“Patients with respiratory symptoms similar to COVID-19 will need to be treated with a high degree of suspicion for the retrieval.

“Therefore, I feel the Government may have recognised the need for an increase in both material and personnel resources.”

The key stakeholders in the project, along with Charles Darwin University, are the National Critical Care and Trauma Response Centre, CareFlight _ Darwin, The Royal Flying Doctor Service - South Australia and Central Operations.

The courses will commence  in January 2021.


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Nicole Madigan

Nicole Madigan is a widely published journalist with more than 15 years experience in the media and communications industries.

Specialising in health, business, property and finance, Nicole writes regularly for numerous high-profile newspapers, magazines and online publications.

Before moving into freelance writing almost a decade ago, Nicole was an on-air reporter with Channel Nine and a newspaper journalist with News Limited.

Nicole is also the Director of content and communications agency Stella Communications ( and a children's author.