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Susan Rivers, RN, BSN, CFRN, CMTE, MBA
Region 6 Director, MedEvac Foundation International Board of Trustees Cross-over Member

Program Director, Carilion Clinic Life-Guard

I earned my RN from a community college in 1993 in a very rural part of Virginia; a place where there still is no hospital or ER in the county and where (at the time) not even a helicopter could respond for scene responses. I moved to Roanoke, VA upon graduating, in search of opportunities to accelerate my learning in a trauma center / teaching hospital. I began my career at the Carilion Clinic as a Trauma ICU and ER nurse prior to becoming a flight nurse with Carilion Clinic Life-Guard in 1996. While working as a full time flight nurse, I progressively developed my leadership skills with various additional roles in critical care ground, fixed-wing, and rotor-wing over that 10 year period during which time I also earned my BSN from Jefferson College of Health Sciences (followed by my MBA from Averett University). I knew I was interested in leadership then, but had that feeling confirmed when I attended the AAMS Medical Transport Leadership Institute (MTLI). I earned my CMTE from MTLI right before before I transitioned into my current position as the program director of our 3-helicopter program and Neonatal-Pediatric transport divisions.
Since then, I have remained active as a long-term presenter at AMTC, an advocate for drone safety, and a volunteer with Haiti Air Ambulance.

Q: Tell us about your job and what you love most about it.

A: While nothing will ever compare to my first 10 years as a full time flight nurse, being the program director is absolutely the next best thing. I love that my position provides me the opportunity to maintain my role as a flight nurse while also providing me different challenges with leadership “behind the scenes.” As most people know, flight crew and ground EMS providers alike are faced with many unique circumstances as compared to that of the in-patient provider. Along with that, they have incredibly creative solutions to these challenges. I love helping them develop them into realistic proposals, identify the obstacles, connecting them with the right resources, and moving those obstacles out of the way… together. I may not be routinely helping patients on the front lines  these days, but I am helping the people who help the patients and that is incredibly satisfying in itself.

Q: What / Who inspired you to follow an air medical / critical care transport career path and how did you break into it?

A: As a young first-year student nurse, I saw the poster that a second-year student nurse put together for an assignment about different careers in nursing. I had never even heard about flight nursing until then (can you believe that?!?). I was immediately hooked. That said –  I recall how one person told me I would never be able to land a job as a flight nurse (challenge accepted!). Short of the long, after graduating nursing school, I moved to a more urban area to gain experience in a hospital with a busy ICU and ER (and an associated medical helicopter program). I attended every grand rounds I could, took as many clinical classes as I could, studied hard, and achieved my goal three years later. I have never looked back and almost 25 years later, I am still with the same flight program that provided me the greatest career opportunity of my life. #Thankful #Blessed

Q: What is your proudest career-defining moment that best represents your overall professional expertise and experience?

A: I have been blessed with so many career -defining moments but if I have to choose:
1) After many years of applying and reapplying (never give up, y’all!), I was thrilled to see our program selected as The Program of the Year in 2018. Obviously, this is quite an honor in itself, but for me, it was also representative of our flight crew’s commitment to NEVER, NEVER, NEVER GIVE UP (Winston Churchill). It was also a testament to the grassroots beginnings of those long before I arrived on scene; those who established Virginia’s first air medical program in 1981 for a rural region with 138 counties and 800 coal mines. Of course it was also a testament to our present team’s values of courage, commitment, compassion, curiosity, and community.

2) As a regular volunteer with Haiti Air Ambulance since 2016, this experience has opened my eyes to the unique challenges faced by a developing country…things that many of us take for granted. Yet at the same time, I am heartened by realizing how similar we all are. At the end of the day, we are all just EMS providers with a love of critical care and aviation, trying to provide the best patient care in the safest way possible. In 2019, I was able to apply my leadership skills to help them in a different way, when requested to assist them in the temporarily transition from an American aviation vendor to one from the Dominican Republic. Aside from the language barriers (English, French, Haitian Creole, and Spanish), there were the anticipated challenges of transitioning to a different airframe, setting up all new aviation resources, as well as the unanticipated challenges with cultural differences that needed to be worked through along with the general change management. When my time in that role was over, I had certainly learned a lot from them and I like to think I made a positive impact for them as well.

Q: What inspired you to join the AAMS Board?

A: As someone who has been within the same program for almost 25 years, I knew that I needed to expand my horizons to learn more best practices of what others were doing to support our HEMS community. At the same time, I thought that my leadership and “boots on the ground” experience with critical care ground, fixed-wing, and rotor-wing in addition to my roles with a communications center and a neo-peds team would offer some diversity to the AAMS Board while representing the membership well.

Q: What are your top three impact goals you plan to achieve as a board member?

1) Advocacy: Our industry still seems so misunderstood – by legislators and the public alike. I would like to see us continue to highlight positive stories about the impact we make on patient outcomes. I believe we can also work on the image we have in the public eye by openly sharing about our safety standards and growing fiscal challenges.

2) Education: As a long-term AMTC presenter, I LOVE AMTC! Most recently, I have been working with other board members in an AMTC Task Force to address the evolving learning needs and desires of our medical flight crew, comm specs, pilots, mechanics and leaders. I look forward to learning more about what the needs are and finding creative ways to deliver it.

3) Collaboration: In order to overcome the obstacles our shared industry faces, operators, program leaders, line staff, and all other industry representatives must find ways to connect, share, and collaborate for the collective good of our industry.

Q: What do you see as the future of our industry and what is the best way to adapt to a changing landscape; and given that, what are the role do you see AAMS play in that change?

A: In order to adapt to the changing landscape and the pubic and legislative scrutiny, I believe we must all take a hard look at whatever “sacred cows” we may be clinging on to and commit to working together for the good of our industry. My hope is that AAMS will continue to create a diverse board and work closely with other partner organizations to achieve the synergy that will be required of all of us in these challenging times. #WeAreInThisTogether

Q: What’s your favorite book / movie / movie quote and why?

A: “Any fool can have courage, But honor, that’s the real reason you either do something or you don’t. It’s who you are and maybe who you want to be.”
~Michael Oher (The Blind Side)