The Essence of Flight Medicine

The end of October marked a turning point in my flight career.

In the midst of many complicated and intense life milestones, I was scheduled to speak at the Air Medical Transport Conference in Minneapolis. With all that was whirling in my life, another trip was not a welcome addition to my schedule.

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Schedule for the
auditorium I lectured in

For those of you unfamiliar with AMTC, it is the conference for the air medical transport community. Exhibit hall was littered with state of the art helicopters and ambulances. There was a constant swirl of new faces, lectures, flight suits, and business cards. My apprehension at attending diminished slightly as I met some of the finest minds in HEMS research and military transport circles. Those in attendance represented the best of nurses, pilots, paramedics, communicators and physicians in the medical field. I realized, almost immediately, how lucky I was to be included among their numbers.

During the first few days of the conference, an intense group of flight suit clad individuals stood out, traveling in pairs through the crowd, sporting game faces. I noticed one particularly serious paramedic headed to various stations of the METI competition. I was drawn to his bald headed, goatee sporting, confident swagger from across the room. While his aura brushing mine was perceptible, I was completely unaware of the difference he was to make on who I am as a flight nurse.

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(l-r) Mark, Flight Paramedic
Jason, Flight Nurse
Mercy Air METI Team

Unfortunately, other than this particular paramedic, not much else registered with me the first few days of the conference as my apprehension remained quite high. I was wrapped up about giving my pelvic fracture lecture which seemed like a great idea a few months prior when I submitted it for consideration.

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Me speaking

The day after I successfully survived my unwarranted stress and actually giving the lecture, I spent hours enjoying showing off our aircraft, in exhibit hall. Toward the end of the day, I decided to take a break and stroll through the booths walking tall in my flight suit.

As I passed the METI competition stage, he had his back to me, engaged in a relaxed conversation with some of his co-workers. As with everyone else whom I had passed, I walked by and said hi before realizing, for the first time consciously, that he was the same intense paramedic I was drawn to from afar. As my greeting jumped from my mouth, he stopped, turned mid-sentence, and stuck his hand out. “Hi,” grinning in his easy way, “I’m Mark.”

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Mark in competition mode

I don’t put much stock in destiny, or fate, but now, almost two months later, I think I could be convinced otherwise.

Since that first, simple, conversation, we have spent countless hours discussing, debating, and brainstorming about our chosen profession. Pathophysiology, kinetics, homeostasis, equipment, management, flight safety . . . the topics are a continuous stream of consciousness that bounce and carry over for sometimes days. Mainly, it seems, I sit with my eyes and ears open as I have learned more in five minutes absorbing his knowledge, than I have in weeks worth of lecture or clinical.

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Mark in his element

Talking to someone and seeing them in their element, however, are sometimes two entirely different experiences. With Mark one simply flows into the other. Just a few short weeks after our chance meeting, I found myself hot off loading an aircraft with Mark and his partner at a hospital in Southern California. Two shifts working with him in his world cemented my opinion of Mark and my admiration for his professionalism.

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Me (white helmet in aircraft)
taking a photo of Mark taking a photo of me

My last day in San Diego intensified these opinions as we spent the morning walking along the beach, engrossed in yet another profession based discussion. In this conversation, he allowed me to see just how deeply the passion in which he approaches flight medicine is intertwined with who he is at his very core. His words rendered me speechless. He described that which I had been searching for but unable to completely capture.

Mark’s passion for flying, for medicine, is not just lip service because it is an exciting job. He loves it for what it is. A profession in which he aggressively grasps every chance to make a difference.

Not the chance to save a life.


The chance to give someone an extra two minutes of living for the family. The chance for a tragically lost life to carry over as a gift of organ donation. The opportunity to challenge the next generation of EMTs to excel by using his status as a flight paramedic to snag their attention and imagination for a few short minutes.

He knows saving a life will happen, when fate deems it so.

Flying isn’t about credentials, or classes, or certifications, or degrees. It is about possessing the passion necessary to continuously choose the path less traveled. In flight medicine, that particular path isn’t less traveled because it is unknown. It is less traveled because it is the difficult one. The one that requires you to make ten times the effort of your peers. The one in which you must sacrifice a part of yourself to each patient. The one in which you instinctively reach for medications and tubes without hesitation or indecision because you trained that much harder. The path down which you able to confidently act when faced with a mother screaming for you to save her child while they hover near death.

He didn’t simply choose path less traveled expecting a final destination. Mark thrives on the journey itself, knowing that to experience the journey is to capture the essence of flight medicine.

Many of you have asked what it takes to be part of this profession.

He showed me what it means to be part of this profession.

Each of us have defining moments in our careers.

It seems that I have found one of mine.

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Mercy Air Flickr set here.

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  1. Thanks guys. I’m hoping that the Muse and the events leading to this post shook out some blogging cobwebs. Blog-sta-pation has been an issue for me as of late. Do they make an enema for that???

  2. Em,

    Are you in love? Sure sounds like it or a really intense crush. Did I mention that I have a bald head? Haven’t heard from you in awhile and I have not been the best either, since I haven’t reached out other than jokes and all. How goes command? How is Zippy?

    Kisses, Matt

  3. What can I say? It turns me on when a guy can intubate a mostly dead trauma patient who is hanging upside down, in a car, hanging over the side of a cliff . . . in the pitch black of night. Is that so wrong?

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