Chief Life Flight Nurse and Program Manager, Physician’s Assistant – Mentor, Charlotte Ankersheil
This mentor has over forty years experience in nursing and later as a Physician Assistant. She began her career as an LPN working in an emergency room. Six years later she got her degree as an RN by going to night school. She then worked on a life flight helicopter for over twelve years where she rose to the position of Program Manager and logged over 1,500 life flight missions. She went on to become a Physician Assistant working in an ER for another fifteen years where she performed many of the duties of a doctor. This mentor’s article will be particularly relevant to those of you who don’t have a lot of money to spend on your education but want to earn a good salary. Her career path proves that you can have a rewarding career without incurring student loans if you are willing to continue with your course work once you get the initial nurse’s training you need and have entered the profession at the LPN level. She accomplished all this while being married and raising children.
Overview of My Career
When I graduated from high school, I first worked in a business office and was taking accounting classes. After a couple years I found out that I didn’t like office work and began looking for another career that I not only liked but one where I could make more money and better support myself. My uncle was a doctor and someone I admired for his dedication to serving other people. He became my mentor and after talking to him he suggested that I consider nursing. I had worked as a nursing assistant in a hospital when I was in high school and knew something about the variety of nursing jobs and thought it was a career I would enjoy. So three years after graduating from high school I changed my career goals and went into nurse’s training at our local technical college. There I earned a one-year votech degree, which is necessary to become a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN). This is the entry-level position for the nursing profession.
After I passed my state boards and obtained my license, I began working in various departments, my favorite being the hospital emergency room. I continued taking classes at night to earn the credits I needed to get my license as a Registered Nurse (RN). I still wanted to advance my career and earn more money. It took me six years of night school. But by working and going to school at night, I was able to pay for school myself without taking out any student loans. After I got my RN license, I took a job as a life flight nurse, something I knew about from working in the emergency room. That position was exciting and challenging. But I still wanted to advance my career further and began taking classes as a prerequisite to a Master’s PA program. While I could do some course work at night, there were too many courses that required you to be at the school during the day. So after twelve years as a life flight nurse, I went to school full time. It took me a year to finish my prerequisites to be able to get into a PA program. I completed that program, passed my boards and then worked as a PA for another 16 years before I retired.
What You Should Know About Nurse’s Training
- The pay is the same no matter what school you attend. You are hired because you have passed your state exams and have a nurse’s license. Employers do not look at where you got your degree before you took your state licensing board exams. They only care that you have a license. Do your homework about college costs and try to get that license as inexpensively as you can so you can minimize or not incur any student loans. A local community college is likely the best place for most people to start. I have seen people go to expensive, prestigious colleges with well known medical schools for their nursing degrees. They all ended up with crushing student loan debt that forced one person I know into bankruptcy. Because there are still shortages of nurses, many hospitals offer help with tuition where you can work at the hospital while you are attending class to get your initial Associates degree. See if these programs are available in your area.
- A one-year certificate from an accredited school is necessary to take Board Exams to be an LPN. To be an RN, an Associate’s or Bachelor’s degree is required to be eligible to take State Boards. You should know that besides RNs, doctors do not necessarily need a Bachelors degree either before they enter medical school. There are a few doctors I know who only completed the undergraduate course work they needed to get into medical school and never stayed the extra year to get their Bachelor’s degree. This saved them time and a lot of money. But to be able to advance beyond the level of an RN, you will need to get a Masters degree. Here is where the school you go to matters. If you take night classes at a smaller school, you will eventually have to go to a larger college that offers a Master’s program. It is important that the credits you earn can be transferred to that college when the time comes. Make certain the college you plan to attend will accept your college credits if you want to start your Master’s program by taking some classes at another school.
- One of the advantages of nursing as a career is that you can build on your degrees like I did and continue to advance your career. Put a program of continuing education into your career plan and you will see that you will be able to earn almost as much and a family doctors and not have to commit nearly the same amount of time and money.
- If you are in high school, there are ways you can work in many hospitals to see if you think you like nursing before you enter college. Do things like volunteer as a nurses aid. Then you will know if you can handle the job before you sign up for nurses training.
Personal Characteristics Needed to be a Nurse or PA
Although nursing pays well, particular if you get a Master’s degree and become a PA, it is not the kind of career you should choose unless you possess the personal character traits needed to be a good nurse. Above everything else, all nurses need to be dedicated to helping other people and have empathy for their patient’s feelings. But there are special personality traits I feel you must have to work in an emergency room, on a life flight crew or in an ICU.
- You must be able to the handle the pressure that comes from having to quickly make tough decisions. For example, one time I was bringing a college professor from another state in a helicopter to prepare him for transport to a hospital where he was to receive a heart transplant. His heart stopped over twenty times during the trip and I had to defibrillate him each time before we got him to our hospital and eventually transported him to the doctors who performed a successful heart transplant. I have had people who were bleeding to death from trauma and were saved by acting decisively and without hesitation.
- But nurses are not always successful at saving a life. You have to be able to handle the fact that you are going to lose some patients no matter how hard you try. Having to pronounce a patient dead is hard. You must do an honest self-evaluation and be certain that you can deal with death under constant emergency circumstances.
- As a nurse you are part of a team with other doctors and nurses. While it is important that you are assertive and act decisively, at the same time you have to be able to work well with these other people and get along with them under the kinds of stressful situations I have been describing.
- A nurse is also a teacher. You have to want to share your knowledge and be altruistic. As part of my life flight experience, we traveled to other emergency service providers in smaller towns and rural areas to teach them how to better handle medical emergencies. It was very gratifying to see the improvement in their overall performance after teaching these courses.
Other Responsibilities of a Nurse
When you come in each day, it is your responsibility to read the current reports on your patients and then make sure everything is available to take care of them. This means you have to do some simple things like checking the stock room to make sure there are enough gowns and more complicate things like making sure equipment is available to perform any scheduled tests. If there are tests scheduled where the patient has to be transported, you have to arrange for that transportation to where that testing is to be done.
Other Benefits of being a Nurse
You are normally well treated by the doctors and nurses you work with in you team. Plus hospitals follow a strict legal protocol when it comes to job evaluations and discipline. You are generally not subject to the whims of doctors or other supervisors so your career will advance on the basis of the overall quality of your work. If you feel you are not being treated fairly, there is an established grievance procedure that generally works well.
Nurses are highly respected in the community. Added to that is the additional prestige of being involved in the life flight program, which generally receives a lot of news coverage. While flying in a helicopter gives you a different perspective on the earth and may seem more glamorous than other field of nursing, keep in mind it is still a form of transportation. You should not get into this kind of program just for the opportunity to fly but the opportunity to provide a better service to your patients and save lives.
Nursing offers a wide variety of career possibilities. While I spent my career in an emergency room and on life flights, there are many other good career opportunities. Nurses can work in all the medical specialties just like a doctor that fit a nurse’s personal interests. You can also chose your work environment like working in a physician’s office, home healthcare services, nursing care facilities, schools, the military and for businesses.
Risks in the Nursing Profession
There is always the risk of getting an infection from your patients. There are protocols for dealing with this risk in every hospital. But the difficulty in controlling the recent spread of Ebola and the infection of a number of health care worker points to one of the risks you have to consider if you choose nursing as a profession.
People are sick and need medical attention from a nurse twenty-four hours a day including weekends and holidays. Although hospitals try and fairly allocate shifts, you are going to have to be prepared for evening an weekend hours if you decide to work in a hospital.
Patients are in pain and sometimes not mentally stable after being in trauma. When you work in an emergency room you can get into situations where the patients might do thing that would hurt themselves and hurt a nurse.
If you work in Life Flight, there are greater risks because of the accident rate for helicopters and the fact that they are sent into more dangerous situations that most ambulances. I remember that one time I had to go under car and a van that were in an accident. The van was teetering on the median and was unstable. But I had go under that van to check accident victim. These difficult situations occur when Life Flight is called.
Earnings and Future Career Prospects
The future of nursing and being a LPN, RN and a PA is now being driven by demographics. Because of the large number of Baby Boomer like myself who will be retiring and will need more health care, the demand for nurses is expected to grow for at least the next twenty years.
Demand for both nurses and PAs is strong because of this demographic trend. I consider nurse’s salaries at all levels to be very attractive for both men and women. I was able to earn bonuses working on Life Flight in addition to my base salary. As a PA, I earned over $100,000 most years.
As you would expect, working for a hospital you will get excellent medical coverage. All of the hospitals that I worked for also had some kind of retirement program. These extra benefits do not show up in the salary statistics YPNG has provided for you at the end of my article and should be something to evaluate when you are looking at taking any nursing position.
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics for LPNs, RNs and PAs
The median annual wage for licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses was $41,540 in May 2012. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $30,970, and the top 10 percent earned more than $57,360.
Most licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses work full time, although about 1 in 5 worked part time in 2012. Many work nights, weekends, and holidays, because medical care takes place at all hours. They may be required to work shifts of longer than 8 hours.
LPN Job Outlook
Employment of licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses is projected to grow 25 percent from 2012 to 2022, much faster than the average for all occupations. As the baby-boom population ages, the overall need for healthcare services is expected to increase. LPNs and LVNs will be needed in residential care facilities and in home health environments to care for geriatric patients.
The median annual wage for registered nurses was $65,470 in May 2012. The median wage is the wage at which half of the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $45,040 and the top 10 percent earned more than $94,720.
Employment of registered nurses is projected to grow 19 percent from 2012 to 2022, faster than the average for all occupations. Growth will occur for a number of reasons, including an increased emphasis on preventative care; growing rates of chronic conditions, such as diabetes and obesity; and demand for healthcare services from the baby boomer
population, as they live longer and more active lives.
The median annual wage for physician assistants was $90,930 in May 2012. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $62,430, and the top 10 percent earned more than $124,770.
Employment of physician assistants is projected to grow 38 percent from 2012 to 2022, much faster than the average for all occupations. Increased demand for healthcare services from the growing and aging population and widespread chronic disease, combined with a shortage of physicians, will result in increased demand for healthcare providers, such as physician assistants.