LIFE IN THE SKY: Nicholas Coleman-Hicks gives insight into what it's like treating those living in rural or remote Australia with the RFDS.
LIFE IN THE SKY: Nicholas Coleman-Hicks gives insight into what it's like treating those living in rural or remote Australia with the RFDS.

REVEALED: In the hot seat with a flying nurse

WHAT'S it like to be in the air with the flying doctors?

Well, for flight nurse Nicholas Coleman-Hicks it's all part of his day job.

The former city slicker who was working in Sydney is settling in to his new role with the Royal Flying Doctor Service based at the Rockhampton hanger.

When the Rural Weekly caught up with him he was in the midst of finishing a swing of 12-hour night shifts.

He is missing his old city's selection of takeaway restaurants and said the humidity in the north was "something else".

However, the passionate professional is enjoying everything about helping those living in rural and remote Queensland.

What attracted you to the RFDS?

Well, it's an opportunity to see some of the most remote places in the country and meet the great people that live out here. From a professional point of view it means working with the best nurses, midwives and doctors in the country, as well working very independently and closely with our awesome pilots.

The whole aviation side of things things is completely different to anything you'll see on the ground, it adds a whole new dimension to nursing.

How have you settled into Rockhampton?

It's been really good so far. I've been to Rocky a few times with the army reserve previously so I already had a pretty decent idea of the place. The heat isn't too bad but the humidity is something else.

So far, what has been the biggest challenge about your role?

Most of the flights out of Rockhampton are done nurse only, so apart from the pilot (who's likely to be a tad occupied) we work independently. Coming from a big city hospital where there's often an extra pair of hands has been a big adjustment.

What's your average shift look like?

Every shift is a bit different. Some shifts, for a few possible reasons, maybe very relaxed and provide a good opportunity to do some education and check our equipment.

Most shifts however start with a page from RSQ who coordinate patient movements over the state. Then while working with the pilot on shift we plan when and where we'll meet with the patient and get them to their destination.

For some patients this can be very straightforward, we'll meet them at the tarmac with some help from the Queensland Ambulance Service.

If the patient's situation is more complex we'll meet them at the hospital. Some of our patients may have some very complex needs, so we'll be joined by a LifeFlight doctor to provide medical support over the evacuation.

Our shifts are twelve hours long, but a lot of that time is spent preparing and packing up equipment, actual time in air varies greatly between shifts. Some days we might only do two or three sectors (individual legs), but other days we may do six or more.

What's it actually like to be in flight?

Every flight really is a bit different, and often depends on how the patients go with flying as well. Some patients really enjoy it. Especially a lot of the older blokes who have some piloting experience themselves, it's always great to share some aviation stories. Babies generally fly very well as long as they've got a full belly, they seem to like the engine noise in the background.

Some patients just aren't fans though, and can take a bit of TLC to get them through the flight. That might mean holding their hand and talking them through the flight, or a bit conversation as a distraction.

How have you found landing on bush airstrips?

The majority of flights we do are to some of the larger tarmacs in the South Eastern corner, so it's always a nice change to go to bush strips. The thing that always strikes me is how welcoming and supportive the locals are whoever we land. Haven't had any extraordinary bumpy landings... yet.

Do you have a personal connection with rural or remote Australia?

I grew up in Sydney, but I've always enjoyed being out in the bush while travelling. Seeing so much more of our beautiful country has definitely encouraged me to keep living and working in rural and regional Australia. The people out bush really make it special, there's definitely a more friendly attitude the further away you get from the city. That's been obvious both in and out the RFDS uniform.

Everyone living in bush thinks of the RFDS heroes - do you feel like you are giving back to country Australia?

Even in the city, the RFDS has a legendary status. There's definitely a feeling that by working for the RFDS I'm doing my part to help people out who are otherwise so distance from help. The tyranny of distance is such an abstract concept until you've got an unwell patient and they need to be moved hundreds of kilometres for a service that in a metro emergency department is down the corridor.

What's the best thing about being a nurse? It must be amazing to deliver a baby?

Catching a baby is always an amazing feeling (but preferably not in the back of a plane!) but credit where it's due, Mum does the hard work. The best part is probably the amazing people that I've met, patients definitely but also the pilots, doctors and other nurses that I've worked with.

My answer would probably change readily though because every shift can be so different. The medical side of things can be very satisfying. Relieving someone's pain, helping a patient breath more easily or getting a line in a dry patient and giving them fluids always feels amazing.

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