July 16, 2004

4 – Faces of Vanderbilt LifeFlight

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Wilson Matthews/Photo by Anne Rayner

4 – Faces of Vanderbilt LifeFlight

Wilson Matthews

A day at work is never just a day at work for chief flight nurse Wilson Matthews, R.N.

“You never know what a day at LifeFlight is going to bring you. I’ve met the president [of the United States] at work. I’ve had pizza delivered to a hay field somewhere at work. I’ve had dinner from a snack machine at a small town airport while at work,” he says. “You can never predict what you’ll be doing.”

Matthews has been a part of this unpredictable career for more than a decade, flying in Long Island, N.Y., and Dartmouth, N.H., before joining Vanderbilt’s LifeFlight program seven years ago. But his desire to be in this field began while he was still in high school.

“Growing up with a paramedic/firefighter father, I was with him during a rescue that required the use of one of the Pittsburgh hospital’s air medical helicopters. It was during my junior year of high school that I decided I wanted to be a flight nurse,” Matthews says. “It was a combination of childhood aspirations of being either an astronaut or a doctor.”

He says it’s autonomy, motivation and impact on one’s own career that set flight nurses apart. And it was these three characteristics that were instrumental in bringing Matthews to Vanderbilt. He joined LifeFlight because he wanted a program with high flight volume and high patient acuity — which would provide him with ongoing professional challenges.

“I can honestly say that I’ve gotten that and much more by being a part of the Vandy LifeFlight team,” Matthews says.

Even though autonomy is an important part of being a flight nurse, Matthews says being a part of a team is just as important to him.

“What I love most about working at LifeFlight is being associated with such an awesome group of professionals…The whole team maintains a high level of motivation, a ‘can do’ attitude that doesn’t take no for an answer, with a focus on safety and superior patient care,” he says. “I am proud to just be a part of this team.”

Though every day brings something different, and every day is a new challenge, Matthews says his most significant project is the one he’s currently involved in the helicopter replacement project that’s bringing brand new, state-of-the-art helicopters to Vanderbilt.

“Hospital administrative support and financial commitment to the LifeFlight program and our patients will give our crew and patients one of the safest and most advanced air medical helicopters in the world,” Matthews says. “Working on this project from its foundation through the first delivery has been one of the most professionally challenging events in my career, but at the same time, it has also been one of the most rewarding.”

The project has consumed a lot of Matthews time, but when he’s away from work, he likes to be “away from work.” Matthews says what’s most important to him in life is his family — his wife Kathleen, their son Justin, and twin daughters, Madison and Makenzie.

“My hobbies all involve my family — zoo trips, swimming, traveling and just being with them is what I like most,” he says.

But some day, Matthews may have to add flying in helicopters to his family activity list. It seems that the love for adventure runs in the family.

“Maddie and Kenzie, who are 3-and-a-half-years-old, can already identify a BK117 helicopter in the air,” he says.