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Preparing to Take Flight

After topping off my 32-ounce coffee mug, I hop into my 2014 Dodge pickup and get on the I-80 freeway to begin my day. On a good day, the 90-mile drive from Evanston, Wyoming to Salt Lake City, Utah, takes me an hour and 23 minutes. I become engrossed in a great book on tape or a favorite comedian on the Pandora comedy station. Before I know it, I’ve already crossed the border into Utah to start my next shift as a nurse in the Emergency Room at the University of Utah Hospital.

In the back of my mind I know that with every mile I drive I’m getting that much closer to my ultimate goal of becoming a flight nurse with AirMed. At the end of my shift, it’s another 90 miles on the road back home.

Aha Moment in the Meadow

When my husband was training to become a firefighter and an emergency medical technician, I had the opportunity to shadow him on an ambulance call in the Uinta Mountains. Watching AirMed land in the meadow and care for the trauma patient was a gamechanger for me.

The flight nurse, flight paramedic, and the pilot see the sickest of the sick on their very worst days. In a matter of minutes, they have to take in this scene and manage every aspect of the patient, preparing them for the trip to the hospital in the cramped confines of the helicopter thousands of feet in the air!

As I witnessed the AirMed team in action, I knew that’s what I wanted to do. I was willing to do whatever it took to get there.

Valerie Cook

Going the Distance

For the next two years, I drove an hour and a half from Evanston to Rock Springs and back three to four times a week to attend nursing school. My first job out of nursing school was in an operating room in Evanston. While this was an incredible learning experience, I was missing the adrenaline rush from that day in the meadow.

I consulted my long-time friend Wade Spivey, who is also a flight paramedic with U of U Health AirMed, and he told me if I want to get on the helicopter, I needed Intensive Care Unit and emergency room experience. There was no ICU in Evanston, and I was convinced the University of Utah would be the best place to train with the best people.

It wasn’t long before I began the long drive across state lines to work in the ICU at the Huntsman Cancer Hospital at the U where I learned the ropes in the nurturing, team-learning environment under the mentorship of my nurse manager, Lawrence Marsco.   

Adrenaline Junky

Six months ago, I joined the emergency room staff at the University of Utah Hospital. Similar to the Huntsman ICU, the ER is one big family. Like a finely tuned orchestra, we all have assigned parts or roles to play. It’s awe-inspiring to watch our teams in action, knowing I’m part of the best team possible. It’s an incredible feeling to be standing side-by-side with my colleagues—my friends—as we collaborate to improve a patient’s outcome, knowing that no matter what, we’re in this together.

The people at U of U Health are amazing, the care is exceptional, and I’m learning so much. It feels amazing to know that we’re giving the best possible care out there.

Valerie Cook

Valerie Cook (left) with ER co-workers
EmmaJayne Daw and Greg Bates

What Drives Me 

Sometimes when I’d be driving in or coming home exhausted after a night shift, I wondered how I was going to do this. Lots of coffee and my family keep me going. I want my twin boys to have that same kind of drive and commitment. My patients are also an important source of motivation and inspiration. As a nurse, I try to apply this quote from Gandhi:

“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”

Extending humanity and sympathy to others during their most difficult, trying moments is our job—and privilege—as care givers.

"Get to the Choppa!"  

Becoming a flight nurse is extremely competitive and the path seemed daunting at first. But now I’m only one and a half years away from completing the necessary training. The U has always held a special place in my heart and that’s why my sights are set on joining AirMed.

Imagine my excitement when AirMed recently designated an aircraft to be on-site in Evanston four days a week. I’m thrilled to see the people in my community have more access to the highest level of care that U of U Health is known for. I am now aiming to be a flight nurse stationed in Evanston, providing that top level of care to my friends, family, and neighbors.

Borrowing a line from Arnold Schwarzenegger’s film “Predator,” I look forward to the day when I get to yell, “Get to the choppa!” and I’ll actually be the one who’s going. But as exciting as it seems to trade in scrubs for a jumpsuit, when I finally take flight with AirMed, I still plan to keep one foot on the ground by working in the ER.


Valerie Cook, BSN, RN

Guest blogger Valerie Cook works as an emergency room RN at the University of Utah Hospital and volunteers for the Uinta County Ambulance Service in Evanston, Wyoming, where she lives with her husband and their two children.

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