Variety is the spice of life – and EMS
Janet Taylor’s medical career allowed her to follow her passions from working as a flight nurse to serving as a nurse in a paramedic role
When Janet Taylor, CFRN, CEN, CCEMT-P was 12 years old, two young boys who rode her school bus drowned in a pond just outside her small hometown. A medical helicopter arrived to take the children to a larger facility a few hours away, where they later died.
Taylor, who had only ever seen a ground ambulance in action, was captivated by the idea of in-flight medical care and decided right then that she was going to become a flight nurse.
And she did. In 1998, Taylor graduated with her nursing degree and began working at Citizens Memorial Hospital in Bolivar, Missouri, rotating between different clinical departments. When she was scheduled for a stint in the emergency room, she knew she had found her calling.
“I fit in everywhere and I enjoyed it, but I became bored pretty quickly,” she said in an interview with EMS1. “I worked [obstetrics], ICU, and it was all the same stuff, it seemed like. The ER had the biggest variety, and that’s what held my attention the longest.”
In 2004, St. John’s Life Line, a medical helicopter service, expanded into the area, setting up a landing pad next to the hospital and looking for applicants. Taylor jumped at the opportunity.
On her first day of orientation, she sat inside a helicopter listening to her trainers give the history of the agency and an overview of the program. Shockingly, she discovered she was sitting in the same helicopter that airlifted those two boys from her childhood.
“I’m like, ‘OK, this is meant to be,’” Taylor recalled, choking back tears.
A packed schedule before the pandemic
For nearly 14 years, Taylor worked as a flight nurse for the same company that had inspired her medical career as a child until 2017, when she transferred her skills to LifeFlight Eagle Air Ambulance in Kansas City, Missouri. Wanting to increase her industry knowledge, Taylor earned her critical care emergency transport certification (CCEMTP) and then dove head-first into teaching.
“I took that [CCEMTP] course and there were a couple of topics that I was like, ‘Oh, I could do a better job of teaching this,’” Taylor remembered, laughing. When the lead paramedic instructor approached her and asked if she was interested in teaching, she replied, “As a matter of fact, I am.”
Since then, Taylor has been a staple at EMS conferences, instructing on a variety of topics across 37 states.
“I was teaching everywhere and holding down full-time hours at my job as a flight nurse,” she said. “I was super-duper busy, but that’s the way I like to be; I can’t be bored.”
And then the pandemic hit.
“Everything came to a screeching halt,” Taylor recalls, something she was not used to after years of constantly being on the go. “All conferences were canceled; our flight volumes went down incredibly, because initially we weren’t allowed to fly COVID or COVID-potentials.
That really took a toll on my mental health.”
A lifeline from a friend
It was during this time that another friend of Taylor’s reached out and offered her a job. Mike D’Agostino, who worked with Taylor at LifeFlight Eagle, wanted her to come work for him at Golden Valley EMS.
“We were visiting, telling old stories and he – half-jokingly – said, ‘Why don’t you come work for me?’”
Taylor laughed his suggestion off at the time, noting that he would need to write a role for a nurse on a ground ambulance. But later, Taylor realized that a change was exactly what she needed after coming to the realization that she was “mentally broken down.”
“After 18 years of flying, I needed to do something else,” she said. “So I called [Mike] and asked, ‘Is that job offer still open?’" He asked if she was serious, and she said, "Yes, I think I am.”
By January 2022, Taylor was working full-time as a nurse in a paramedic role for GVEMS, which some may see as a step backwards – but not Taylor.
“I’m doing more of the things that I’ve always wanted to have the opportunity to do, but never did because I was always flying,” she said. “Now I’m taking on projects lined up for me in educational and leadership roles. I’m excited again and feeling wonderful.”
Starting ‘from scratch’ as a nurse in a paramedic role
When Taylor was working for the air medical agency, she often joked that she and her colleagues had their “patients brought to us on a silver platter.”
“The IVs are started, the medications are given; sometimes they’re already intubated, and we just continue care,” she said.
Now, on a ground ambulance, it’s up to Taylor to prep the patients.
“My partner and I are the first ones in the door and the first ones to assess what we need. All these things that I get to start from scratch on that I never had the opportunity to do before,” she said.
Taylor explained the variety of calls is what excites her about her current role, from delivering babies, to hospice care, to pronouncing a patient’s time of death.
“I don’t consider myself to be a competitive person; in sports, I don’t have to win,” she said. “But in healthcare, I wonder, was there something I missed? Why did I miss it? And what can I do next time to be better? I don’t have to be perfect; I don’t have to save every single life. If it was meant to be, it was meant to be. But did I do my best to improve that outcome potentially?”
With her nursing background, Taylor has a different perspective than other medical professionals she goes on runs with.
“I’m finding that I have a little bit more comfort level in things they don’t do all the time, because of the air medical service that is right on their campus,” she said. Crew members will say, "Well, we could do this, but the flight crew will take care of that.”
With Taylor on board, those steps can be taken on the ground.
“I’ll jump in there and say, ‘Oh, I know what to do, I used to work at that place,’” she said. “I’m finding that my comfort level with critical care stuff and more autonomy is a little bit stronger than my peers, but we’re working on that to get them thinking, ‘OK, if the helicopter is not available, because it’s not always going to be the answer, what are you going to do about this?’”
Planning for the future
At 48, Taylor has no plans to retire anytime soon. However, she is thinking about her future.
“We just had this discussion last week because I’m physically fit; I’m active. I feel like I can keep up with the young kids,’” she said. “But can I really do this when I’m 65? Maybe, there are people who can. But do I want to?”
Taylor’s plan is to work on the ambulance for several more years “because I love it that much,” and then gradually phase into an office-based position to provide continuing education options for the staff.
When asked if she would ever consider returning to a nursing-only role, Taylor answered immediately: “No.”
The daily variety her current role offers, as well as distance from the politics of COVID protocols inside the hospital, makes Taylor grateful to be where she is.
“I can do the ER in my sleep,” she said. “I need to learn the [EMS] aspects of it.”
She’s well on her way.
Read articles authored by Janet Taylor, CFRN, CEN, CCEMT-P