The Cass students were all members of the Healthcare Occupations Students of America, an organization dedicated specifically to the health care industry in a manner similar to the Skills USA organization, said Advisor Nikki Bentley.
“All of these kids are interested in health care in some format, even if it’s like in the field like veterinarian, radiology, laboratory — you name it — ultrasound and nursing positions, all of that,” she said. “So they’re all showing an interest in this, and this is a good way for them to see a career, such as these flight medics or these flight nurses, and just get a taste to see if that’s what they want to do when they grow up.”
Bentley said she had a couple of students who were interested in joining the military and specializing in the medical field. Seeing civilian air ambulances would be a good experience for them, she believed.
“The important thing about these clubs like HOSA is to give the students a taste of an actual medical career because many of them base their decisions on what they want to do in life without any experience. So getting them somewhere like this ... a health care career that is so exciting, kind of keeps them going, motivates them and maybe gives them a little direction as to whether or not they really and truly want to do this,” she said.
Program Director Vance Ferebee, who gave a tour of two air ambulances in one of Phoenix’s hangers, said there was no specific training or schooling program to work on an air ambulance. He recommended students considering flight nursing work in emergency rooms, get experience as an emergency medical technician and provide care for both children and adults, as the working conditions and patients can vary wildly in the air ambulance field.
“I’d been out of nursing school 5 1/2 years when I was first able to fly. But I’d worked with pediatrics, I’d worked with babies, I worked in a hospital, I went to paramedic school,” he said. “But the thing is, people that like pediatrics don’t usually like working with adults. People who like working with adults are scared of working with pediatrics, so it’s hard to find someone who likes to do both because they are very different.”
Ferebee said he had flown all over the world, and the only places where the Phoenix ambulances do not fly are North Korea, Syria and Cuba. Aside from that, he said he has flown to Iraq and Afghanistan and even Libya during the Arab Spring uprisings. The flights have a mix of domestic and international destinations, and while some are scheduled in advance, there is always the chance an emergency flight will be called for. However, Ferebee made it clear the medical personnel do not work for Phoenix. Medical personnel work for him on an on-call basis.
“So Phoenix Air doesn’t employ any medical people. They come to me. So they’ll come to me and say, ‘We got a trip, going here to here, leaving this day.’ I’ll get all the medical information. I’ll talk with our doctor; we’ll plan it all,” Ferebee said. “We’ve got all the medical equipment. We’ll talk to the hospital in wherever, we’ll talk to the hospital where they’re going, make sure there’s an ambulance set up.”
HOSA members had the opportunity to query Ferebee on his career and the mechanics of providing health care while in the air. They were able to climb in both ambulances and see how the equipment fit into the fuselage of an airplane. In the case of the smaller jet, nurses are restricted to two in-line seats where there is not even enough space to stretch their legs out, let alone stand.
Even if the students were not interested in working on an air ambulance, Bentley said the tour could still be useful. Seeing the working conditions of a health care professional would give them an idea of what they could expect someday, she believed.
“These kids will see this type of career and be like, ‘This is not something I want to do,’ and maybe get redirected. Many of them, this will concrete their thought that they want to help people and maybe gives them a little direction as to whether or not they really and truly want to do this,” she said.