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For Alyssa McCuistion, Neonatal Flight Nurse, Nursing is a World Class Career
By Nancy Kennedy

A nursing career offers such plentiful professional options that, for highly motivated nurses, the sky is the limit. One nurse who is flying high in her career – literally - is neonatal nurse Alyssa McCuistion, BA, RN, BSN. When she heads to her job every day, Alyssa goes, not to a hospital, but to Phoenix International Airport, where she is based as a Neonatal Flight Nurse with AirEvac Medical Transport. Alyssa is a member of an elite, superbly skilled team who stabilize and transport critically ill infants from Birth Centers and outlying hospitals to Level 3 medical centers where they receive lifesaving intensive care.

Alyssa loves her job. Every work day, she flies on a helicopter that is essentially a Level 3 NICU in the sky. Upon arrival at the referring facility, she and her partners assess and stabilize the infant, intubating to establish an airway, and providing oxygen, fluids and medications. This demands exceptionally high level skills and clinical decision-making abilities that Alyssa acquired while working right here in Pittsburgh, her hometown, in the state-of-the-art NICU at UPMC Magee Womens Hospital.

A native of Bethel Park, Alyssa first set her sights on a career in medicine, earning a degree in biology at St. Vincent College. But she reconsidered that decision following a series of international trips that opened her eyes to the pervasive suffering and harsh realities of lives in other cultures. She knew that the education she most sought was one that would be acquired through travel. Alyssa wanted to learn about other cultures, touch lives in direct ways and have the freedom to travel extensively. Nursing seemed to her to be the best path to fulfilling that dream. She enrolled in Duquesne University’s Second Degree BSN Nursing Program, an intense, 16 month accelerated program for those with a bachelor’s degree in another discipline. After graduation in 2016, Alyssa accepted a position in the ICU at UPMC Presby. “I wanted a solid foundation in an adult care setting before I chose a specialty,” she explains. “I felt prepared after that to work almost anywhere.”

She joined Traveling Nurses, a company that sends qualified nurses to places throughout the country with staffing vacancies. Traveling Nurses provide jobs as well as opportunities to experience new cities and regions. As a Traveling Nurse, Alyssa worked in Seattle and North Carolina, then returned to Pittsburgh to Magee. “Magee is a top-ranked hospital able to treat every type of high risk condition of mothers and infants,” she explains. “I was on the NICU Triage team; we went to the Delivery Room to resuscitate and stabilize infants who were premature or had problems, and on transports. At Magee you get incredible experience.”

That experience prepared Alyssa for her current role as a neonatal flight nurse with AirEvac in Phoenix. “I moved to Arizona and was looking for a job. I saw a Flight Nurse ad and applied. Flight nurses must have both NICU skills and flight experience, so I was qualified by my NICU and Triage experience,” she says. AirEvac is a nurse-owned air ambulance service, and neonatal transporting is one of their specialties. 

Alyssa describes her job as dynamic, challenging and deeply rewarding. “In Arizona, there are many freestanding birth centers; they’re licensed but don’t have the capacity to care for high risk infants. We often go to the native American White River Reservation, a 90 minute flight. I enjoy the action as a flight nurse. Our team of a neonatal nurse and a respiratory therapist provide a very high level of care, getting to the infant as quickly as possible. In the air, we’re strapped in with the baby; the space is tight so we make certain the baby is stable before we leave. Two teams are always on – a maternal team and an infant team.”

Alyssa loves the diversity in nursing. “Nurses are never bored, because we’re always learning,” she claims. “Nursing requires ongoing training, to learn new techniques and keep skills sharp. The possibilities for nurses are plentiful and there is a specialty for everyone.”

For Alyssa McCuistion, her professional nursing license is a ticket to the world. “I’m curious about cultural differences and I love learning about various customs and beliefs. Through travel and my work, I have gained an awareness of how vulnerable so many people are, throughout the world. Because I am a nurse, I can impact the lives of others and make a difference.”

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