July 16, 2004

6 – Faces of Vanderbilt LifeFlight

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Tom Grubbs/ Photo courtesy Vanderbilt LifeFlight

6 – Faces of Vanderbilt LifeFlight

Tom Grubbs

Tom Grubbs is the institutional memory of LifeFlight. That’s because he’s been working as a flight nurse for all but six months of the program’s 20-year-long history.

“I’m the oldest of the old farts,” he says, laughing.

In those two decades of work, Grubbs — who has worked at LifeFlight longer than anyone — has logged in approximately 4,300 patient flights. (And that doesn’t count the times he flew and didn’t pick up a patient, nor does it count the times LifeFlight picked up more than one patient in a trip.)

“When I began, we had a single engine helicopter that would hold one patient,” he says. “We had a communication book that sometimes kept us more in touch that e-mail does now. We would read the book, and then go to our shift.”

The book was used to detail what happened in previous flights, and everyone filled it out during their shift, and then others read it at the beginning of their shifts.

Grubbs began his career driving an ambulance for a funeral home and came to Vanderbilt to work in the MICU in 1980.

He joined LifeFlight just six months after it was up and running at Vanderbilt. Along the way, he’s received his EMT license, his paramedic certificate, got a bachelor’s degree and a degree in nursing all while working full time.

“LifeFlight has offered me a lot of opportunities for advancement and to learn, and if I don’t take advantage of those, it’s my fault,” he says.

Not only has Grubbs been with LifeFlight the longest, one could probably successfully argue that he has worked the most hours in the work-week and has maintained the most grueling (self-imposed) schedule. Grubbs even talks at a fast pace — perhaps because he just doesn’t have time to slow his words with all the work left to do.

When Grubbs was in nursing school, he also worked part time for the Nashville fire department. For 12 years, he worked 96 hours a week at the fire department and at LifeFlight combined.

His brother Andy also worked at the fire department, and they helped cover each other’s shifts for three years while Grubbs made a two-hour commute from nursing school in Huntsville, Ala. to work and back.

“I worked a 24-hour shift on Saturday, and a 12-hour shift on Sunday,” he says. “That left Monday morning to get back to class. I was able to keep up and graduate in 1990.”

Most recently, Grubbs has worked for the fixed wing LifeFlight in Clarksville. He’s lessened his load by about 20 hours, but still puts in about 76 hours each week.

When he wasn’t working for LifeFlight, Grubbs has spent time in the adult ED, and has worked in the PICU in the past.

“I’m officially a workaholic,” he says. “I was doing these hours when I was 19 — I am now 50. I kinda grew up with it, and I figure I am going to last five more years at this pace. If LifeFlight will let me stay, I’ll work until I’m 55.”

The night before his ‘double nickel’ birthday, he says wants to work one last 24-hour shift and then, “I guess I’ll do something else.”