Ready for Anything

Big Care in Small Centres: Jessica Wilson, ’09 BScN, flight ambulance nurse in the Northwest Territories.

Gillian Rutherford - 21 December 2022

Jessica Wilson knew soon after graduating from the U of A’s Faculty of Nursing in 2009 that variety would be the spice of her working life. She started out at the Royal Alexandra Hospital’s labour and delivery department and immediately loved it.

“I thought it was going to be rubbing backs and calming babies, and it would be just so beautiful,” she remembers. “Instead, it was a rodeo. It taught me to think fast and to improvise. It really grew my confidence as a nurse.”

The best part was the adrenalin, says Wilson, who grew up near Seba Beach, Alta., west of Edmonton. “I was a farm kid who was used to riding horses and getting bucked off llamas,” she says. “I’m an adrenalin junkie.”

Further stints in the emergency department and both pediatric and adult intensive care added to her list of qualifications to join the air ambulance crews at Yellowknife’s Advanced Medical Solutions Inc. When a call comes in, they are ready to fly within minutes. 

“It’s just grab your flight bag and let’s roll,” Wilson says with a laugh. She has worked with the service for two years. “Sometimes you have no idea what you’re going to find — it could be a stabbing or a 10-month-old child who’s not breathing properly. It could be a baby coming early — that does happen.”

Her job demands that Wilson tap into all of her varied nursing experience.

“You’re getting everything — pediatrics, labour and delivery, patients who are sedated and intubated that you’re transporting to Edmonton,” Wilson says. “And you get to see the North, which is so cool.”

The air ambulance teams, typically a nurse and a paramedic, live and work together 24-7 for several weeks at a time, waiting for that emergency phone to ring. The pace can be frantic, although they can ask for more rest if they get too fatigued. Wilson likes the challenge of teamwork between the paramedic and the nurse.

“You have this highly skilled, pre-hospital professional working and integrating with the hospitalized vision of where this patient is going to end up,” she says. “Everybody brings something different to the table and it’s very beneficial for the patient.” 

Wilson is grateful that her husband, who is a firefighter, understands the pressures and the rewards of her non-traditional, non-hospital role, and she encourages other nurses to consider following a similar path to enjoy the rewards of a different way of nursing.

“You’re so important in those communities,” she concludes. “And I love pushing the boundaries of nursing. The world needs nurses like us.”

Read the full story "Big Care in Small Centres" in our Winter 2022 Alumni Magazine: