For Joseph Falise, RN, BSN, CCRN-CSC, being a nurse is never about flights of fancy. Many times, it’s simply about the flight itself. But we’re not talking about any average flights here – mainly because he’s not any average Joe.
Falise, a med-surg ICU nurse manager at University of Miami Hospital, has enjoyed a 20-year nursing career that has seen him lauded with a plethora of awards, recognition and otherwise really cool “atta boys,” but it’s his other job that is a real conversation starter.
Being a Flight Nurse
For the past four years, he’s been a flight nurse with Trinity Air Ambulance International.
“One of the main reasons that I became a nurse was because, first and foremost, my mom was a nurse so I had great footsteps to follow in,” he explained. “In addition to that, unfortunately, I lost my father at a very young age. But I’d seen the care he received during his illness, and I just felt that I needed to somehow find a way to pay back the people who had helped my father. Finally, he died of a heart attack, which is exactly the reason I chose cardiac nursing.”
Much like some of the, shall we say, adventurous trips he’s taken to locate and retrieve patients in distress – more on them later – his nursing career has taken a circuitous route as well.
“My journey as a nurse has spanned two different states, he said. “Starting in New York, and now obviously in Florida, since 2002. Nursing, for me, has really been very adventurous, very exhilarating, very rewarding, and is something I am very passionate about. I’ve worked at the bedside, I’ve worked clinical, I’ve worked day shift, I’ve worked night shift, I’ve worked in different cities and different hospitals. So I’ve gotten a chance to see how healthcare has evolved at the nursing level over the last 20 years.
“It’s been very exciting to me. I also realize that I have a ton of potential in different areas. In our profession, there really are boundless avenues you can take with regard to career focus and the type of nursing that you really like. For me it’s been mostly critical care; I’ve done some home care in the past. I’ve done some work with medical companies; but I just love nursing. There was a time in school that I considered going to medical school, and I am so fortunate I didn’t. Nursing is my life.”
Some Strange Adventures
One of those avenues Joe found was literal rather than figurative and has taken him to places and situations that stretch the imagination.
“Yeah, so my newest adventure was in 2012; the opportunity presented itself, and I decided to do some part-time flight nursing where we fly to other countries, pick up sick people, and bring them back. So that’s been very rewarding to go to another country and find somebody who really is stranded, and doesn’t speak the language, and is fearful, to see somebody from America that speaks their language and is going to help them get home. That has been fun and it’s very rewarding, though not without its own challenges.
“One in particular was a patient on a yacht in the Bahamas. There was no easy way to get to them. We landed close to shore; we had to roll up our scrubs, wade in the water and then take a small boat to where they were. Things like that happen all the time. But it’s OK, because when they see you, you’re like their angel and things will be OK. You arrive with confidence, and they feel that. You can see it on their faces. It’s really an incredible feeling.”
Another of the many adventures featured nearly everybody’s most-feared ocean dweller.
“I was actually at work at the hospital when I got a call to go to the Bahamas to pick up a patient who’d been bitten by a shark,” Joe said. “So we immediately mobilized and a team got in the air within an hour, transported the patient back to America and to a local trauma center. Miraculously – she had a very large shark bite, was missing a large portion of her torso – she was in very stable shape. The shark didn’t actually puncture any vital organs; it didn’t puncture any vital blood vessels, arteries or veins. So, although she certainly had blood loss, and certainly had pain, she was extremely stable
“Actually, that trip had a very good outcome, a very positive outcome. She was interviewed on television, and she’s doing amazingly well.”
Impactful Moments at the Bedside
The impactful moments are not limited to the flight cases, of course.
“I think probably one of the most impactful moments for me came when we had a young patient who suffered a tragic catastrophic brain hemorrhage and ended up expiring. He was newly married, and his wife was seven-and-a-half-months pregnant, which, of course, evoked a ton of emotions for all of us that were taking care of him, and in addition to that he was a local firefighter. So there was a lot of talk around being a hero, and a lot of talk around all of this service that he had given to our city, and the camaraderie of the fire department, and of his fellow brothers. So it was really very difficult for us, and then going through the process of organ donation, accompanying him to the operating room to do the organ recovery process, very impactful, very meaningful for me.”
Something else with great meaning for Joe is NTI and his work with AACN.
“NTI is outstanding,” he affirmed. “It offers so much. To network with colleagues, renew relationships, make new ones, and the learning opportunities that it affords … it’s just a great experience. When I went I didn’t want to come home, believe it or not.”
A Chapter President, Too
As if all of his involvement isn’t enough, Joe is also spending a year as president of AACN’s Greater Miami Chapter, which runs through NTI 2016.
“It’s really important to me,” he said of his role as chapter president. “We really need to make sure that our processes are where they need to be. And that’s where AACN comes in. Our chapter allows us to collaborate and communicate so well with other facilities, too. There isn’t a hospital in Miami in which I don’t know someone, and that’s because of AACN.”
All of which helps Joe thrive in his career.
“In my current job, what gives me the most joy and satisfaction is seeing how I can benefit and how I can help with professional development in the newer nurses as they’re hired,” he said. “And as they’re learning how to be critical care nurses. When you see a light go on and you see that “aha” moment with them, and you realize that you’ve been able to teach them something that they’ve not seen before or not done before. Sometimes in a very fast-paced environment it’s hard to have those moments on a daily basis, but every once in a while when you can really feel like you’ve made a difference in helping somebody learn, helping somebody take their practice to a different level, helping them see patient care through that nursing lens where it’s a little bit different than med-surg nursing or in nursing school. Those are the types of things that you just don’t learn in nursing school. You have to learn that at the bedside.
“I think one of the most common and challenging aspects that we come across on a regular basis in a hospital in an intensive care environment is finding time to actually take care of the patient. With all of the regulations, restrictions and guidelines that are coming out – and we know that all of these things are evidence-based, and we know that the practice is guided by expert advice and expert commitment to the profession – I think sometimes it’s difficult to find the time to provide the care that you want to, and it’s difficult sometimes to get away from the computer to go in and just hold a patient’s hand; it’s difficult sometimes to find the time to do that. So working toward making the environment a healthy work environment is even more important; it’s even more critical, now, that we find a way to have those resources available, that we have that time, because that’s truly what’s going to make a difference in the patient’s care.”
Of Knights and Gators and Hurricanes and Orange?
And then, of course there is caring for himself, and he does that in large part with a little Saturday afternoon yelling.
“Well, I have two children,” he explained. “Both of them are following in the healthcare field. One of them is a Gator (University of Florida); one of them is a Knight for University of Central Florida. I work as a Hurricane (University of Miami) and I grew up as an Orange man (University of Syracuse fan). So I have four schools that I can root for on any given college football weekend. That’s kind of how I recharge.”
That’s when he’s not hanging out in jets or wading knee-deep in water with rolled-up scrubs. It’s all in a day’s work for this not so average Joe.