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Tonya Barnard, BSN, RN, CEN, CFRN, CCRN, CTRN, CPEN, TCRUN, EMT-B, had a dream. After she graduated from nursing school, she knew that she wanted to work in the emergency room. “I liked the fast pace and high-acuity patients,” she says. But she wanted to help people while having even more of an adrenaline rush.

Barnard would often see medical helicopters and think about how amazing it would be to work in one, but at the time, she didn’t realize that the job of “flight nurse” existed. After she attended a Landing Zone class for Pafford Air One, she learned that each medical helicopter included a nurse and paramedic team.

Flight nurse Tonya Barnard and her colleague
Photo courtesy of Pafford Air One

After having worked for two years in the emergency department, Barnard began studying for her CEN. Also while in the ED, she began obtaining a plethora of other certifications. But it wasn’t until she had attended a boot camp for Pafford Air One in Ruston, Louisiana that her other dream came true: she was offered a position as a flight nurse and began working for them in February of 2016.

“I get to see sights not many people get to see while providing top care to patients in their time of need,” says Barnard.

According to Barnard, “Flight nurses fly alongside a flight paramedic or respiratory therapist to provide emergent and/or critical care to patients while getting them to definitive care. There are different types of air medical teams that do search and rescue, 911 response and transfers, or specialty transfers. The company I work for does 911/transfers with a flight nurse/flight paramedic team,” she says. “Combining nurses with paramedics brings knowledge from hospitals and scenes to whatever patient we encounter. Combined with your partner, you are responsible for providing quality critical care assessments and interventions to patients of all ages and types while also being active in promoting aviation safety and always going home at the end of the shift.”

While she loves her job, Barnard admits that there are difficult times as well. “One of my biggest challenges as a flight nurse was returning to work after dealing with the tragic loss of three of my colleagues in a HEMS crash from multiple waterfowl- Pafford Air One Bravo. In this type of field, your colleagues become your work family, and we function as such. So when you have this type of tragedy, you band together as a family and support each other through it. However, it will always be in the back of our mind how dangerous this job I,” Barnard explains.

But there are many, many rewards that outweigh the fear. “The greatest rewards of flight nursing are getting to see people recover to a high quality of life after a potentially life-altering event due to the interventions I was able to provide early in their care,” says Barnard. While not all patients are able to survive their injury or illness, I know the care I provide will give them the best chance.”

Barnard has proven to be exceptional at her job and received the BCEN Distinguished CFRN Award. “It’s an amazing honor, as there are many deserving CFRNs,” says Barnard. She is humbled that her base manager/mentor thinks so highly of her that he nominated her for the award.

As a flight nurse, Barnard says that she has learned that the medical field is constantly in flux. But no matter what, she wouldn’t trade her job for the world. She knows how important it is. “You and your partner are often the only thing that stands between a patient living or dying. It is your responsibility to provide these patients with the best care possible,” says Barnard. “Having specialty certifications gives me, my partner, and my employer confidence that we will make the best possible decisions for the patients.”

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