After 24 years as a flight nurse, Tim Lenth, RN, knows the importance of teamwork. Air medical flight nurses must work together seamlessly, administering care in intense, high acuity situations – all while flying 145 miles per hour, hundreds of feet above ground, in the tight confines of a helicopter. When every second matters, it is especially important to establish clear communication and strong relationships within the nursing team. Tim and one of his fellow flight nurses, Adam Lenth, RN, have been building their relationship since the day Adam was born.
“We are a great team,” said Tim.
Adam joined his father at ThedaStar, the air medical program for ThedaCare in northeast Wisconsin, in 2015. Although Tim and Adam Lenth may be the only “father-son” flight nurse duo in the nation, they are nonchalant about the novelty of that label. Tim noted that although it’s certainly a “unique situation,” to work together as flight nurses, the two are very close both in and out of the office and have worked together in the past to remodel homes and even start a small business. For Tim, what’s most impressive is seeing his son thrive as a flight nurse.
“It’s generally accepted that it takes a few years to become comfortable in the flight nurse role,” he said. “I am very impressed with Adam’s ability to assimilate into the role as quickly as he did.”
In order to become an air medical flight nurse, nurses must first complete several years of emergency room (ER) or intensive care unit (ICU) nursing. The hospital critical care experience gives flight nurses the skills and knowledge to draw from when caring for patients in the field.
“My previous training as an emergency department nurse gave me a great set of ‘tools’ to prepare me for flight nursing,” said Adam. “I take care of similar types of patients in the air as I did on the ground, so I am better prepared to quickly anticipate the best course of action for a patient to have a successful outcome.”
One of the biggest adjustments Adam encountered when transitioning from emergency to flight nursing was getting used to not having a 20 bed emergency department with large rooms, supplies and staff.
“The current space I work in only has enough room for one to two patients, two medical crew members and our medical bag,” he said. “Over time, I got used to working in the ‘mobile ER/ICU’ as everything you need is either at your fingertips or an arm’s length away.”
In addition to years of emergency room experience, flight nurses also have to be trained in advanced cardiac life support (ACLS), pediatric advanced life support (PALS) and advanced trauma life support (ATLS). They also must be certified as a certified emergency nurse (CEN), critical care registered nurse (CCRN) or certified flight registered nurse (CFRN). Further training includes learning how to intubate patients, competency in pericardiocentrersis and other procedures, ventilator management skills and working with pilots to learn about aircraft safety and operations.
At ThedaStar, Adam and Tim typically work 24-hour shifts. The crew includes a pilot and two medical team members, typically two flight nurses or a flight nurse and a flight medic.
“All of us are responsible for flight safety,” said Adam. “When there are no patients on board, one of the medical crew will ride up front with the pilot to be an extra set of eyes. This can help when flying in unfamiliar landing zones such as a field or roadway.”
Flying is especially dangerous at night, when hazards are less visible. The team is trained to use night vision goggles to help look out for obstructions like electrical wires or phone lines. When a patient is on board the helicopter, both medical crew members work to care for him or her in the back of the aircraft, with nurses alternating as the primary patient caregiver, directing the care of the patient while in the care of the flight crew.
“The flight crew’s role is to get patients to the rest of the healthcare team in the best shape we can,” said Tim. “It is truly a team concept that includes everyone - the dispatcher, the pilot and the medical crew. We are the introduction to the healthcare system for our patients.”
Adam was inspired by his father’s enduring passion and high job satisfaction, which led him to pursue a career in flight nursing.
“Working with my dad is one of the greatest opportunities I’ve ever had,” said Adam.
Tim is glad his son found his calling in flight nursing.
“I am fortunate to get to do something I love,” said Tim. “And it’s especially rewarding to now work with my son who I hope gets the same enjoyment out of helping others in their time of need. Flight nursing is a very rewarding career and one of a few where you actually do get to change people’s outcomes and lives.”