By Angel MedFlight Contributor
Angel MedFlight Worldwide Ambulance prides itself on providing medical transport to patients on some of the fastest jets in the industry. So it seems counterintuitive that our Clinical Trainer Michelle Lohof would instruct some of our newly hired flight nurses and paramedics to “slow down.” But those were the words she was told when she graduated to fixed-wing aircraft. The slowing down is all part of the care and compassion our medical crews show to patients and their families on Angel MedFlight transports.
Lohof has been a nurse for 21 years and came to Angel MedFlight last November. A native of Montana, she learned in nursing school that air ambulance work was the direction she wanted to take. Her epiphany came during a tour of a medical facility, watching a helicopter land on the helipad and the patient wheeled out on a stretcher.
Lohof says that working rotor wing for 10 years, “It’s load and go and drop and go. It’s hurry up, stabilize the patient.” But at Angel MedFlight, where flights are often several hours, there is more time for bonding with patients. “That’s what I love about this job. That I’m able to slow down and do patient care,” says Lohof.”
Her path toward nursing began during her teen-aged years. She recalls volunteering at a nursing home in Montana and enjoying the time spent caring for and talking with the elderly patients. She saw how the nurses cared for the patients and she decided then that’s what she wanted to do.
Working in emergency rooms, ICUs and burn centers wasn’t enough for Lohof. She desired the autonomy that comes with working in an air ambulance. That meant more schooling for critical thinking skills which are necessary for flight crews. “That autonomy is necessary as there is always the chance communication with the ground may be lost. There are satellite phones but sometimes you hit dead zones. There are areas where you just can’t reach somebody so you need those critical thinking skills to be able to make decisions on how to treat the patient,” says Lohof.
Slowing down was the first thing Lohof learned when she arrived at Angel MedFlight. “Have compassion. Slow down and take care of the family.” She says she cried after her first four or five transports after seeing so much compassion between the family and the patients. She recalls a 6-year-old boy fighting cancer. “That was the most brave, stoic little patient I’ve ever had.”
Lohof seems to have an insatiable appetite for knowledge when it comes to critical care nursing. And as our Clinical Trainer she passes that knowledge on to others. Our flight crews must go through quarterly and annual training, both didactic (classroom) and in skills labs featuring SimMan, a realistic, full-body wireless patient simulator. Lohof also directs online monthly education provided to flight crews who are located in other parts of the United States.
Compassion, though, is not easy to teach. It’s a quality that Lohof looks for in prospective employees during the interview process. “You can teach someone what they need to know to do the standard operating procedures but you can’t change attitude. So that’s one of the things that when I help interview applicants I look for. I don’t want to hear ‘I just want to fly.’ I want to hear ‘I love taking care of patients and this is how I do it.'”
Not only is Lohof an experienced nurse and Angel MedFlight’s Clinical Trainer, she’s also a prophet. “One of the medics who just started and had come from rotor wing, I told her that this is going to be the best job that she’s ever had. Three weeks later, Lohof says, the medic “came in, got teary-eyed and said, ‘You’re right. This is the best job that I’ve had in my life.”