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my pace


Career Preparation

The Sky’s the Limit

Cathy Kelley '02
College of Health Professions
Westchester Campus

Nursing alumna Cathy Kelley ’02 has seen it all—from intubating trauma patients in a helicopter to caring for heart attack victims en route from one hospital to another—it’s all in a day’s work for this flight nurse.

Kelley works for HALO Flight, a nonprofit based in Corpus Christie that transports critically ill patients to lifesaving medical centers in southern Texas via helicopter. She takes as many as seven flights during each of her 24-hour shifts, serving a population of more than one million people.

While her career might not be for the faint of heart, or height for that matter, Kelley says that flight nursing is full of personal satisfaction for those who are up to the challenge. “It’s just rewarding seeing that you’re taking care of such a sick patient and that it’s your responsibility to make them feel better. You know you were a part of healing that patient,” she says.

But she admits the responsibility that comes with the job can be stressful at times, and is thankful for an education at Pace that prepared her for the pressure. “The professors build you up to become a leader, not a follower. They helped me a lot to be autonomous,” says Kelley. She recalls her professors pushing her to look beyond the obvious and to think critically, which is an essential skill for flight nurses. Kelley has to think two to three steps ahead whenever she works with a patient. “It’s a very autonomous role. My decisions are pretty much based on what I feel is right for the patient, and I usually confer with the paramedic flying with me,” she adds.

Noting its rarity, Kelley says she became interested in flight nursing during her clinical rotations at Pace, specifically rotations in the ICU and emergency room at Westchester Medical Center.  There, she would watch the stat flight helicopter and was curious about what the crew was doing. “They had flown in a patient and I thought that was just the neatest thing. That just solidified that I wanted to become that kind of nurse,” she says. After 10 years as an ER nurse, Kelley finally took to the skies with HALO Flight.

She encourages current and potential students to push through clinical rotations and nursing school, acknowledging how difficult the journey can be at times. However, with various fields and career paths to choose from, the sky is the limit for Lienhard graduates. “I really don’t see any other profession give that much opportunity to a brand new graduate. If you can work through it, there are so many doors waiting to be opened,” she says.

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"The professors build you up to become a leader, not a follower. They helped me a lot to be autonomous."