When Renee works from the RACQ LifeFlight Rescue helicopter, she does ten-hour days or fourteen-hour nights. The day shifts start with the morning checks. “We meet with the critical care doctor and check our medical and aviation equipment. That includes the medical bags, oxygen levels, blood, helmets and harnesses that need to be ready to go,” Renee says.
“Then we do an aviation brief with the pilot and the medical crew. We discuss key risks for the day such as fatigue management, concerns, weather, and the implications this may have on tasking. Then we go through the emergency briefing,” Renee says. “Having this brief is important to us as a crew. It institutes communication lines and joins us as a team. It makes everyone aware of each other and gives us a space to discuss any current issues and recent mission debrief points.”
Most day shifts are very busy in South East Queensland, Renee says. “We are usually out straight away, and usually we're out all day.” Night shifts can be fatiguing, like all shift work, when the team is busy. “But it’s absolutely incredible flying at night,” Renee says.
Rescuing people in Southeast Queensland
Renee flies around in an Agusta Westland AW139, a helicopter well suited for retrievals. It is a spacious aircraft with exceptional operational capabilities. “From Brisbane, we can go up to Gladstone, which is up to two hours one way, or about 550 kilometres, until we need to refuel. Or out to Roma, to the west,” Renee says.
“But we usually cover the southeast corner and fly to places like Bundaberg or Hervey Bay, Kingaroy or Toowoomba,” Renee says. “We could be going to someone with a heart attack or to a car crash. You can’t predict it and that’s what I love about this job; it tests you on all levels.”
Full-time work and part-time study
While Renee was working towards her Graduate Certificate of Aeromedical Retrieval she was working full time for LifeFlight. “I had to make time, block time off and be really organized,” Renee says. But she was also grateful that LifeFlight supported her studies. “I could rotate my shifts around exam time. My work was really flexible.”
Renee kept on studying after that, adding a Master of Public Health to her resume. “It was really interesting studying about pandemics whilst we were going through one,” she says. “The entire course taught me so much, with so many transferrable skills.”
Plans for the rest of 2022
With two days per week on the helicopter and three days doing clinical governance, Renee says she is going to be very busy for the rest of the year. However, being a bit of a self-proclaimed workaholic, she is considering doing her Master of Business Administration (MBA) as well.
“After 7 years in this job and moving hundreds of patients around the state, I still feel incredibility privileged to have this job and to be able to provide the service we do,” Renee says.
How to get a Graduate Certificate of Aeromedical Retrieval
People who are interested in learning more about aeromedical retrieval need a Bachelor’s degree in a relevant health profession as well as a significant amount of relevant postgraduate experience.