Taking Nursing to New Heights

By Ed Moorhouse

Briana Entrikin, a Sicklerville resident who graduated from the Rutgers School of Nursing–Camden’s accelerated bachelor’s degree program in May, prepares for flight.

Briana Entrikin, a Sicklerville resident who graduated from the Rutgers School of Nursing–Camden’s accelerated bachelor’s degree program in May, prepares for flight.

It’s known as the golden hour — the time it takes to transport a patient suffering from a traumatic injury from the field to the hospital.

It’s a matter of life or death.

“Patients’ chances for survival are greatest if they receive care during that narrow window of time,” says Marian Nowak, an assistant professor at the Rutgers School of Nursing–Camden.

In most cases, that critical care takes place in an ambulance or in a helicopter as the patient is transported to the hospital. The role nurses play is crucial, and nursing students from Rutgers University–Camden are gaining real world experience through an innovative program that takes them along for the ride.

During the spring 2015 semester, eight Rutgers–Camden nursing students spent a portion of their clinical rotation at Cooper University Hospital’s Department of Air Medical Services in Millville with flight teams as they responded to calls in need of critical care transport by air. The flight nursing program is part of Nowak’s course on community and global health nursing.

“It gives students a perspective of critical care nursing that they normally wouldn’t get,” says Dominic Parone, one of Cooper’s flight nurses who took Rutgers–Camden nursing students in the air with him. “Critical care transport is an expanding role for nurses and critical care transport nurses need to be able to function in an environment with minimal resources in a limited amount of time. We have to be able to make fast critical decisions with a limited amount of time and information.”

He also stresses the importance of functioning as part of a team and relying on your partner in flight while providing critical care.

“When you think of the role nurses plays in a hospital, they’re the eyes and ears for the physician, but in the back of an aircraft, the buck stops with us,” he says. “We’re very autonomous and it’s important that students gain extensive critical care nursing experience now.”

Briana Entrikin in one of Cooper University Hospital's helicopters.

Briana Entrikin in one of Cooper University Hospital’s helicopters.

Briana Entrikin, a Sicklerville resident who graduated from the Rutgers School of Nursing–Camden’s accelerated bachelor’s degree program in May, says her experience allowed her to see a whole new side of the nursing profession.

“As a flight nurse, you must be prepared for anything,” Entrikin says. “Not only does the flight team have to get to the patients as quickly as possible, but they must be skilled and competent to react quickly to any scenario that may present itself upon entrance into the helicopter.”

“The patients transported by helicopter are in the most severe and life threatening conditions of their lives,” she continues. “It is up to the nurse and the assisting paramedic to make the right choices to sustain life during the transport to the hospital. For these patients, time is crucial.”

Entrikin says the circumstances are quite different from a hospital environment, where there are spacious rooms with unlimited supplies at hand, as well as an array of supporting staff.

“The most important thing I learned during my shift with the flight nursing team was that in order to become part of this team, you must first excel in areas of critical care and trauma nursing, and develop the utmost confidence in yourself and develop the skills to make knowledgeable decisions fast,” she says.

The unique collaborative clinical program also offers students a disaster nursing certificate which addresses how various emergency medical services teams coordinate care during disaster incidents. Many of the students in Nowak’s community and global health nursing course volunteer with disaster response organizations.

“Most of the nursing students choose to sign up with the Red Cross or the New Jersey Department of Health’s disaster response program,” Nowak says. “Their willingness to volunteer is important to our country’s emergency response system.”

Nowak, who is credited with developing the nation’s first student nurse public health emergency preparedness certificate program, says she hopes the Rutgers–Camden/Cooper collaboration becomes a model for critical care transport nursing education nationwide.

“This collaboration with Cooper is so important because as partners we can share our expertise with each other, develop programs, and enhance learning experiences for our students,” Nowak says. “Since the flight team serves patients in our surrounding communities, it enables students to view firsthand how professional nurses can serve in a unique role providing care outside of the hospital environment. It’s another example of innovative nursing education at Rutgers–Camden.”

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