May 19, 2006

Graduation 2006: A Founder’s first: Man lands Nursing award

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Michael Gooch is presented the Vanderbilt University School of Nursing's Founder's Medal by Dean Colleen Conway-Welch, Ph.D.
Photo by Dana Johnson

Graduation 2006: A Founder’s first: Man lands Nursing award

A bit of history was made at commencement last week when Michael Gooch became the first flight nurse — and first man — to earn Vanderbilt University School of Nursing's Founder's Medal.

Gooch, a Vanderbilt LifeFlight nurse, is a trailblazer in many ways. He grew up on a small farm in Goodspring, Tenn., near Pulaski. His father and serveral uncles served as firefighters and there were several nurses in his extended family, so he learned at an early age the value of helping others.

For Gooch, his most character-shaping experiences came from participating in Boy Scouts. As a freshman in high school, he joined the Explorer Post through the local emergency medical services office, and after training he was allowed to go on ambulance runs and later spent some time job shadowing in the local hospital's emergency department.

Gooch was struck with the positive role nurses played and the autonomy they had. That experience fueled him to get more involved in the health science and technology program in high school. From then on, he knew he wanted to pursue a career in health care.

“I realized I could pursue an associate's degree, earn my R.N. and have a wide variety of ways to progress,” said Gooch.

He attended Columbia State Community College to earn his associate's degree, and at age 20, he was working in a rotation in the emergency department and critical care unit at the local hospital.

“I was able to give patients narcotics before I was even the legal drinking age,” Gooch said.

He earned his bachelor's degree from Middle Tennessee State University after attending paramedic school. That's when he got his first taste of what it's like to be a flight nurse and knew that's what he wanted to do.

“I figured out what I needed to get under my belt in order to become a flight nurse,” said Gooch. “I set out to do whatever it took.”

His strategy included working as a paramedic in Williamson County, and working in the Vanderbilt emergency department as an R.N. in 2001. He worked his way into an open position on the LifeFlight team in 2002 and began months of intensive training. After that, he jumped at the chance to use VUH's tuition reimbursement program to enroll in the VUSN acute care nurse practitioner program.

“My VUSN teachers are still practicing — unlike other schools where faculty members haven't been in a clinical setting in years,” Gooch. “Their real-life experience enhanced my education.”

Gooch will continue his work with LifeFlight, which typically includes one 24-hour shift and one 12-hour shift each week. Additionally, he's signed on with a Knoxville-based emergency department coverage group and will be working at River Park Hospital in McMinnville starting in June. He hopes to continue with community education and outreach and perhaps even guest lecture at some VUSN classes. He is currently exploring options to pursue a doctorate degree.

“We bring Vanderbilt and its advanced care to the scene and do our best to provide the best patient care and support possible during an emergency or challenging situation,” said Gooch.

His parents, Donna and Ken, and sister, Melissa Cherry, were on hand during the VU commencement and VUSN investiture ceremonies on Friday.

“We're so proud of Michael,” his parents said. “He's accomplished so much, and whenever we hear a helicopter fly by, we look up and wonder if it's Michael.”