UA Nursing Alumna Takes to the Skies to Aid Vulnerable Populations

May 22, 2019

The word ‘nurse’ makes most people think of clinical or hospital settings. There’s no denying those are important fields for the profession, but every day around the country, more than 800 medical transport helicopters or airplanes take to the skies to aid some of our most vulnerable populations. University of Arizona College of Nursing Master of Science in Nursing Clinical Systems Leadership (RN-MSN) alumna Jolene Platero is one such high-flying nurse. A member of the Navajo Nation, Platero pursued a career in nursing to help people after being confronted with the nursing shortage when her grandmother was seeking hospital care. Platero wanted to be part of the solution to that problem, thereby providing more progressive and culturally relevant care to her community.

“A lot of contract nurses were coming through who didn’t really know the region and the community,” explains Platero. “There was a disconnect between western medicine and traditional Navajo cultural beliefs and teachings, so I felt that I could play a part in bridging the two.”

After honing her skills as an Intensive Care Unit (ICU) nurse for eight years, Platero decided to make a career move to flight nursing. “It’s something I’ve always wanted to do,” she says.  “In the United States, we know there are certain regions that have limited access to health care, but using the capabilities of flight allows us to get these patients to more tertiary facilities.”

“I get to really help people and I also get to interact with communities throughout my region. I like that they can see my face, and they can say, 'Wow, she's from my area, she's from our community, and she's helping.' I want them to see that if I can do this, they can do this too" ~ Jolene Platero, Flight Nurse, UA Nursing RN-MSN Alumna

Why choose the UA Nursing program for your masters?

The University of Arizona is known in my community for its elite status, and so there are a lot of great things that come out of the UA Nursing program.  You hear about what they’re working on, what they’re venturing out into, and I wanted to be a part of that.

What was the most valuable thing you learned during your studies?

How the health care system works and how we all play an important role in improving health care here in the United States. That includes health care as a whole here in the U.S., everything from politics to policy making to disease processes and data collection; how the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare play a part, how joint commissions play a part, and how that not only influences health care in hospitals and clinic setting but also how it influences flight medicine as well.

Describe a typical work day as a Flight Nurse.

Our workdays revolve around safety. In the morning, we check all of our equipment. We also make sure that everything works when we need it to work. We also check our aircraft. And we double-check each other to make sure we’ve got everything that we need. We also will do a follow-up on the patients we’ve transported to see how they’re doing. Then we’ll take time to sit and brief with our pilot and the partners we’re going to be flying with. We’ll talk about different scenarios, different aspects of patient care and flight, what the weather outlook is, where can we fly to, how much weight can we take today as far as patients go. If we can’t go west, what hospitals do we have travelling east or north? And if we have any didactics as far as education goes, we’ll go ahead and complete those too. And then we’ll settle in and we’ll wait for the calls to come in. We’ll usually do 2-3 flights a day.

What do you find most meaningful about your work?

I get to really help people and I also get to interact with communities throughout my region. I like that they can see my face, and they can say, ‘Wow, she’s from our area, she’s from our community, and she’s helping.’ I want them to see that if I can do this, they can do this too. I also like that my days on shift are always different. Who knows where I’ll go, who knows who I’ll help on any given day. I also like that when I go into these facilities, I interact with members of the community.

What do you see when you look into the future?

I’m considering a few avenues. With nursing, you can almost do whatever you want to do in the health care field. We play such an important role within health care here in the United States, and so if I wanted to advance my career and become a Nurse Practitioner, I have the opportunity to do so. If I wanted to go into leadership or management, that would also be a possibility. Also, if I want to just take some time and explore the rest of the nation and do travel nursing I could also do that.