His job is to walk that fine line between life and death. So Will Schroeder does everything he can to make sure the balance will tip on the side of life.
Schroeder is the Bayflite chief flight nurse at Community Hospital of New Port Richey.
Community is one of four bases of Bayfront Medical Center’s emergency aeromedical program. Bayflite transports trauma patients by helicopter to the closest available trauma center.
Last year, Bayflite flew almost 4,000 patients to trauma centers.
In addition to Community Hospital, Bayflite has bases in Hillsborough, Hernando and Sarasota counties.
Recently, in his gray flight suit, Schroeder sat in Bayflite’s tiny headquarters at the hospital. He was free to talk, Schroeder said, but warned he might be called away by an emergency at any time.
A small black radio on which the call would come rested on the table in front of him, a few inches away.
He was on his weekly 24-hour shift. He also works a 16-hour shift that rounds out his 40-hour work week.
Staff members have bedrooms in the Bayflite quarters in which they can rest between flights.
Each Bayflite crew consists of a nurse, paramedic and pilot. Schroeder is one of four Bayflite full-time and four part-time employees at the Community Hospital center.
When not in use, the Bayflite helicopter rests on part of the hospital’s western grounds.
Schroeder and his Bayflite colleagues provide more than just an airlift ambulance service. Crews have the training, equipment and experience to perform medical procedures in the field beyond the capabilities of those of standard ambulance crews.
According to the Bayflite Web site, flight nurses have to be certified as paramedics and hold a certification in emergency, flight registered or critical care nursing.
“This job is nothing but school for the rest of your life,” Schroeder smiled, explaining employees get annual training focusing on advanced skills and also are required to take continuing education courses.
With his direct gaze and unflappable manner, Schroeder appears to have the ideal temperament for his high-stress occupation.
“I come to this job knowing I do all I can for my patients,” he noted.
He started out as a Bayflite paramedic and was impressed with the high quality of medical service on the flights.
He went back to school and got a nursing degree from Hillsborough Community College, in Tampa.
The flights are short but intense. The human element is always present, Schroeder said.
“Because I have a short time with the patient, it doesn’t mean I don’t develop a relationship with them,” he noted. That relationship can be as simple but as important as explaining to the patient what is happening, he said.
Requests for Bayflite services must come from an emergency medical service, such as Pasco County Fire Rescue, Schroeder explained. “They call. We go.”
At 36, Schroeder, a resident of New Port Richey, is still unmarried, but he has a girlfriend. He explained the realities of his schedule when they first met.
He has no intention of changing the job he loves, he said.
“It is something to strive for,” he observed. “I’m very lucky to be where I am.”