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Flights to fractures: Grounded flight attendant thrives as Hawke’s Bay ED nurse

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Former cabin crew member Victoria Congalton’s mum – a nurse – would often joke that if a passenger on her flights fell ill, the soothing wrap of an airline blanket would do the trick.

So, when the Level 4 Covid-19 lockdown hit in 2020 and the blankets were sadly taken away due to health and safety requirements, Congalton felt it was time to follow in her mother’s footsteps and administer wrappings of a different kind.

“As an air hostess, I used to wrap people up in blankets, and now I wrap them up and treat them.”

She had been flying for about 10 months and had plans to go into training or HR when the country went into lockdown and flights were grounded.

But a sudden epiphany saw her take a bold leap into nursing.

“I remember when we were going into Level 4, and I was still flying,” she said.

“During one flight, I turned to one of my colleagues and said, ‘If I get made redundant, I’m going back to study, and I’m going to be a nurse’.”

Soon enough, she lost her job in a company-wide restructure. Three weeks later, she was offered it back.

But it was too late. Congalton’s mind was made up.

“I told them, ‘No thanks, I’ve enrolled in nursing and I’m not coming back’. I was in my mid-30s, and I couldn’t be mucking around with a job that had no stability at that time.”

Five months into her work as an emergency department nurse at Hawke’s Bay Hospital, the now-39-year-old said she doesn’t regret her decision in the slightest.

“I love it, I should’ve trained years ago.”

She said 10 years spent working as a human resources consultant overseas, paired with her flight attendant training, had helped prepare her for the non-medical aspects of the incredibly demanding job.

“They really taught me people and communication skills, so I felt really well-prepared.”

Victoria Congalton says many of the skills she learned as a flight attendant and HR executive helped prepare her for the world of nursing. Photo / Te Whatu Ora
Victoria Congalton says many of the skills she learned as a flight attendant and HR executive helped prepare her for the world of nursing. Photo / Te Whatu Ora

Pilots, passengers and high-level company partners were all people Congalton dealt with in her previous roles.

“It’s not much different. These people are stressed, but it’s a different type of stress. Travellers are stressed trying to get somewhere, and patients are sick and want to get an answer.

“You’re trying to get a result for them and advocate the whole way.”

Nursing in any capacity is draining, but Congalton said anyone who has the passion and drive should apply.

“I have the most fabulous team. I’m exhausted the whole time, but I’m learning so much.

“It’s tough, and the training is gruelling, but the end result is that you really feel like you’re doing something good.”

It might not be the last time Congalton takes to the skies, however.

While her focus is now on delivering the best care she can in the ED, she said a role as a flight nurse could perhaps be on the cards later in her career.

Mitchell Hageman joined Hawke’s Bay Today in late January. From his Napier base, he writes regularly on social issues, arts and culture, and the community. He has a particular love for stories about ordinary people doing extraordinary things.

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