"IT IS THE BEST JOB in the world and the worst job in the world at the same time," says Ron Bolen ('94), who risks his life daily to save others. Bolen is a flight nurse for North Carolina's Duke University Hospital transport team.
At Duke Life Flight, Bolen is a clinical nurse IV, the highest clinical nurse designation on the nursing staff. He also chairs the public relations committee, won a National Telly Award for directing Helicopter Safety Video and wrote a chapter in the 2002 Air Medical Crew Guidelines.
"My career in flight nursing actually started when I was 7," Bolen says. "For a 'what will you be when you grow up' pro-ject I drew a picture of myself in a firefighter uniform flying a helicopter. I watched Emergency 51 religiously and grew up around aircraft. At JMU's nursing school, I completed an internship with U.Va.'s Pegasus flight program. I was determined from then on to be a flight nurse."
After earning paramedic certification, Bolen needed emergency room and critical care experience to become a flight nurse. While maintaining pre-hospital experience as a paramedic, he applied to Duke because of its unique flight program. Duke Life Flight staff are cross-trained to transport all ages and diagnoses via critical care ambulance, airplane and helicopter. The helicopter radius covers North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, Maryland and part of South Carolina.
"My most interesting experience was the Discovery Channel's Hospital documentary," says Bolen. "They shadowed me and my partner. It's weird walking into a hospital or going to an accident scene and someone asking, 'Aren't you the guy from the Discovery Channel.'"
As a flight nurse, Bolen must teach classes, conduct research and maintain special certifications outside of scheduled work hours. The most difficult task is telling a family of a patient's death. "You never get used to it, and it never gets easier," Bolen admits.
Paid on the same scale as other RNs, Duke Life Flight nurses work through rain, snow, mud and heat without special pay. "The success stories make it worth it," says Bolen. "Making a difference in someone's life at their most dire time of need is the best part of the job. Once, we treated a young girl injured in an ATV accident. She wasn't able to feel anything below her waist when our team arrived. We admini-stered a medication for spinal cord injuries, transported her and she walked out of the hospital six months later."
Bolen would like to hear from classmates at RandJBolen@aol.com.
• Janelle DiOrio ('03)