Anne Marie Lutrick relishes her high-flying nursing career aboard a medical evaluation helicopter, where she’s a member of a three-person crew—a pilot, paramedic and flight nurse—who performs missions when every minute counts to save a life.
The first time she heard the whop-whop-whop of a helicopter’s spinning rotors as it touched down on an emergency helipad at Maricopa Medical Center in Phoenix, her pulse quickened. She thought, 'Someday I’m going to do that.'
From dramatic helicopter rescues to delivering patients to hospitals—and all the life-or-death decisions in between—flight nursing appeals to the highly skilled registered nurse’s sense of adventure. "This job forced me to move out of my comfort zone," says Lutrick, a 44-year-old single mother of two teenaged daughters who lives in Glendale, Arizona.
Inspired by her mother, who worked as a nurse, Lutrick began volunteering as a candy striper at a Phoenix nursing home at age 15. Wearing a pink-and-white striped uniform and white shoes, she worked with the elderly during social activities. "I really enjoyed the one-on-one interaction with the patients, even though it was definitely not something I wanted to do long term," she says.
A year later, the career-minded 16-year-old landed a position at John C. Lincoln Hospital in Phoenix, where she received on-the-job training as an electrocardiogram (EKG) technician. She worked in this role on weekends and school breaks for two years, until she graduated from high school. Later, she worked in the telemetry unit at the hospital, where she monitored patients for heart rate, rhythm and breathing. During this time, she began her nursing education at GateWay Community College, where she earned an associate nursing degree.
In 1998, the acclaimed Mayo Clinic opened a hospital in Phoenix, and Lutrick received a ground-floor opportunity to work there two months before the hospital opened. Widely regarded as one of the world’s greatest hospitals, Mayo specializes in treating difficult cases and spends more than $500 million a year on groundbreaking research. For Lutrick, her job at Mayo made it possible to work and advance her nursing education under a tuition reimbursement plan. She eventually earned a bachelor’s degree in nursing from Grand Canyon University and later a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) from University of Phoenix.
"When I was in nursing school, I had two daughters under the age of 5, and it was a very challenging time. As I worked through my bachelor’s and master’s programs, it meant a lot of time at work or behind a computer, away from my kids," she recalls. Despite the pangs of mother’s guilt, she says, "It showed my daughters how important your education is—that you need to pursue your goals and never stop."
She credits University of Phoenix’s MSN program at Mayo Clinic Hospital for making it possible for her to earn an advanced degree.
– Anne Marie Lutrick
"To be with my peers here on the hospital’s campus made it a lot easier to deal with the hardship of being away from my family."
Today, Lutrick does double duty as a per diem flight nurse with Air Methods Native Air Ambulance and as a nursing supervisor at Mayo Clinic Hospital’s Solid Organ Transplant Center in Phoenix, where she oversees 30 registered nurse coordinators. She enjoys being "a change agent to improve process and workflows."
With transplant centers in Arizona, Florida and Minnesota, Mayo Clinic performs more transplants than any other medical center in the world. "It’s a very rewarding profession because you get to see patients who are not well receive an organ and start to feel better and recover," Lutrick says. "But it’s also a very challenging profession because it doesn’t always go well. There are challenges that arise before transplant and after transplant. But I always like a challenge—and finding creative solutions to problems. Working in transplant has all those pieces of the puzzle."
Off duty from Mayo, the sky is the limit for the per diem flight nurse who works as part of an emergency and critical care transport team aboard a helicopter. She recalls one of her most rewarding missions, when the team rescued a stroke victim in a rural region of Arizona. They flew him to Mayo Clinic in time to deliver a life-saving drug called tissue plasminogen activator (tPA), which can dissolve blood clots and restore blood flow to the brain if administered within three hours of the onset of stroke symptoms. "He made a full recovery, and his wife was very grateful that we were able to save his life," she says.
Looking back on her rewarding career, she offers this advice to her daughters—or anyone following their career path: "Don’t ever give up on your dreams and goals, even if they seem impossible!"
For gainful employment information, including on-time completion rates, the median debt incurred by students who completed the program and other important information, please visit phoenix.edu/programs/gainful-employment.html.