July 16, 2004

1- Faces of Vanderbilt LifeFlight

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Jeanne Yeatman/ Photo by Anne Rayner

1- Faces of Vanderbilt LifeFlight

As Vanderbilt LifeFlight celebrates 20 years, the Reporter is featuring some of the faces behind the program.

In the coming months, the Reporter will feature more about the LifeFlight program — how it began, and where it’s going.

Each member of the LifeFlight team is dedicated to the daily mission of saving lives. Here are six of their stories.

Jeanne Yeatman

Fresh out of high school, Jeanne Yeatman launched her career with a job as a pharmacy technician at Nashville’s St. Thomas Hospital. Little did she know that it was the first step on a health care ladder that would lead her to managing one of the nation’s premier air ambulance programs, Vanderbilt LifeFlight.

Don’t underestimate this 5-foot, 3-inch powerhouse. For the last two years, she has served as program director for LifeFlight, overseeing some of the most aggressive growth the program has seen since its inception on July 12, 1984.

Under her leadership LifeFlight has implemented a fixed-wing flight program, has added two new bases outside of Nashville, and has purchased three state-of-the-art helicopters at a cost of $5.4 million each.

Yeatman downplays her role, and says she has the best job in the world. She loves flight nursing so much that she sets aside each Monday from her management duties to fly as a flight nurse. It is a job that began more than 16 years ago, when Yeatman landed a nursing position in the Vanderbilt Emergency Department.

As a new graduate from the nursing school at Columbia State Community College, the odds of Yeatman being hired at Vanderbilt’s Emergency Department were slim. The institution was not known at the time for hiring new nurse graduates with little or no experience. However, her timing was right and the coveted position was hers. It was there she had a window to watch the LifeFlight nurses in action.

“I knew from the minute I saw the flight nurses in the emergency department,” Yeatman says. “I thought, awesome, what a cool place to be.”

It took Yeatman three years to work her way from the emergency department to LifeFlight, including additional training as an emergency medical technician. Of her 16 years at Vanderbilt, she has been with LifeFlight for 13.

She was one of the first flight nurses to ever be hired with no flight experience.

“When I interviewed with Dr. Morris, he told me he didn’t think I was aggressive enough to be a flight nurse,” she says. “I told him I may not be but that I was assertive enough.”

John A. Morris, M.D., professor of Surgery and director of the division of Trauma and Surgical Critical Care, serves as the medical director of LifeFlight.

“Dr. Morris is a natural born leader,” Yeatman says. “He has the ability to instantly motivate people. His vision for this program has made it one of the best in the nation.”

When LifeFlight began 20 years ago, the program consisted of one helicopter and 10 flight nurses. It now has four helicopters and some 50 flight nurses.

“I’ve grown up with this program,” Yeatman says. “Each day brings different challenges and you have to choose how you are going to react to those challenges. I know that I’m making a difference in someone else’s life.”

But, she cautioned, it is not a job for the faint of heart or the complacent.

“The flight nurses function somewhat independently,” she explained. “They have to stay one step ahead of the game, and they have to work hard.”

Yeatman, who grew up in Williamson County, lives in Brentwood and has a 5-year-old daughter, Haley. She holds multiple degrees, including an M.B.A. from Trevecca Nazarene University.

“I am just truly blessed to have this job,” she says. “I can’t imagine doing anything else. It is the most incredible job a nurse can have without having gone to medical school.”