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Interview With Ameritech Alumni Jennifer Dunford Shealy


Considering nursing? What about from the air? Nurses work everywhere and save lives from the sky every day.

Nursing reaches all parts of the world. Becoming a nurse means having access to a variety of specializations, workplaces, and job experiences. Nurses work with diverse populations, in a variety of environments, and solve a whole array of situational problems. One of the more dramatic careers a nurse can have is as an airmed nurse, a healthcare provider who takes to the skies.

Ameritech alumni Jennifer Dunford Shealy is an airmed nurse in the Pacific Northwest. For her, a day on the job means flying into and out of remote locations in airplanes and helicopters to move or recover isolated patients. During a given work week, Shealy could be dispatched to forests, rivers, mountains, or the Pacific coast. We spoke to Shealy about her experience as a nurse and her time at Ameritech.

Shealy (right) and her colleague about to take flight in an airmed helicopter.

Related resource: An Interview With Ameritech Students

How did you decide to pursue a career in nursing?

Shealy: I come from a long line of nurses. My mom is a nurse with an advanced degree and a specialization in spinal surgery. My grandmother was a nurse. Prior to going to nursing school, I worked for quite a few years at the University of Utah in the burn trauma unit. I was always associated with or involved with patient care in one form or another.

What led you to Ameritech?

Shealy: Aside from knowing a few people who attended the school, the availability. The instructors are all really good! There was one in particular who was very tough, but she was great. The quality of the education on a fast-track program was much higher than what I found in other, similar programs.

How long did you spend there?

Shealy: I got my associate degree with them, so about 18 months. I had some prior education before that, and later on I also finished my bachelor’s.

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What was your job hunt like afterward?

Shealy: I was lucky that I was able to do my capstone in the unit I worked in during that time — the burn trauma unit. I remained a nurse during a two- to three-month ICU program and had my work paid for. That’s what I did for the two years prior to [becoming an airmed nurse]. Then I came to my [current job].

Part of working in an ICU at the University of Utah is that you’re required to float through other ICUs even though they’re not your home ICU. So I had cardiovascular experience, medical ICU experience, and then my background in trauma. So when I came here and interviewed, all of those components came together to be able to fly.

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What is a day in the life of an airmed nurse like?

Shealy: We can work from Seattle to San Jose to Idaho to the West Coast — all over the place. We start out by going in checking the rotors, checking the airplanes, talking to the pilots, checking the weather, and waiting for the calls to come in. [That could be] an air facility call, where we take patients from hospital to hospital. That requires a higher level of care because, physically, a lot of those patients are very unstable. That’s fairly challenging as a team response.

Or, we could get a helicopter call. In this area, that’s particularly unique, because it could be in the middle of nowhere, really. From northern California to central Oregon to the [Cascade Mountains] to the coast. It could be anything. It could be a river, it could be Crater Lake, it could be mountains, it could be I-5. We get a lot of I-5 calls.

Shealy (center) and her airmed colleagues taking to the skies to save lives.

And it’s everything. It’s injuries, it’s vehicles crashes, it’s stroke, it’s traumatic injuries. It’s anything that comes at you. So, we spend our off time getting additional certification beyond what a normal ICU nurse would have. A lot of those cross over into the paramedic world. Everything that happens in a field hospital or in pre-hospital, that’s what we’re doing if the need arises.

That could mean flying all day, or it could mean no flights. There are rarely no flights. If we’re launched or activated, we go. We go to hospitals, we take reports from doctors and nurses, and we manage patients. A lot of the time, because you’re picking up patients from very small, rural hospitals who need to go to level one centers, you’re looked at as sort of the higher level of care. You’re going in and you’re helping these smaller facilities out, managing their events and stabilizing their patients before you can take off.

It’s fascinating! And humbling. Every single day.

Related resource: Recent Ameritech Grad Saves Lives

There’s a whole world of nursing out there, and Ameritech strives to set its students up for success in any field or specialization. Visit our program pages to learn more about our nursing and RN–BSN programs, or follow us on Facebook.