USD Faculty, Students Respond to Mid-Flight Medical Emergencies

USD Faculty, Students Respond to Mid-Flight Medical Emergencies

USD students and faculty

A group of University of San Diego Doctor of Nursing Practice/Nurse Practitioner (DNP) students are in Uganda this month for what professors describe as a “global learning experience” – a chance to expand their knowledge, and exchange ideas with their peers.

But the group got some unexpected, real-world experience before their planes ever touched down in Africa.

Faculty and students were split up across two separate flights out of the U.S. earlier this month. On both flights there were medical emergencies, and people from USD sprang into action to help.

“I think you learn a lot by how you handle an experience like that, in that type of setting,” said Dr. Martha Fuller, associate professor at the Hahn School of Nursing and Health Science.

Fuller said she had just gotten out of her seat when she saw a flight attendant pick up a microphone and ask if there were any doctors or nurses on board. She was right there, so she walked over.

A passenger had become non-responsive.

It turns out Fuller wasn’t the only medical professional on the flight. Another nurse and two physicians joined her in treating the passenger. They laid her on a row of seats, and quickly started splitting up duties.

“It was very good teamwork. I think we each recognized that everyone had different skills and knowledge, and we worked together,” Fuller said. “It was really quite remarkable teamwork to take care of her and make sure she was OK.”

By the time the plane landed, the woman was upright and conscious, before paramedics took over.

After that incident, four doctoral nursing practice students from USD (Tamara Denlinger, Leila Joint, Stefan Panov, and Rakiema Sellars-Pompey) encountered their own mid-flight medical emergency. They were on their way from Atlanta to Amsterdam – one leg of the lengthy trip to Africa – when a flight attendant suddenly fell ill, suffering from what appeared to be severe dehydration.

Two students responded to calls for help, before pulling in the other two. They all worked together using the equipment on board the plane – more than they expected, Fuller said – to render first aid to the flight attendant.

Thanks to their help, he was in better shape by the time the plane touched down. He thanked the students, calling them angels. The incident took them by surprise, but Fuller says they were calm, did their job, and grew in the process.

“It’s a learning experience,” Fuller said. “You learned how you can do things in a smaller space.”

And that was only the beginning of their intersession trip abroad. The learning continues in Uganda. The group is giving lectures based on their expertise, but also getting new perspective from health officials there, and exposure to new experiences.

Fuller hopes the partnership can have an impact on both sides for a long time to come.


Steven Covella
(619) 260-7806