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‘We did a lot of good that day,’ UW Med Flight’s first all-woman crew makes history

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All 3 By Helicopter
UW Med Flight's first all-female crew

PORTAGE (WKOW) -- For 35 years, UW Health has relied on an aerial team of emergency responders to get patients help faster. Now, three women are bringing new diversity to Med Flight and making history.

Med Flight has never had a female pilot until Kai Ficek joined the crew in August.

"I really, really love the job because I'm working with such capable professionals and I'm learning so much and I get to see them do amazing work," said Ficek.

Ficek works out of Med Flight's Portage base. Just a few days after she started, another milestone came for the crew. For the first time ever, Med Flight had its first all-woman crew.

"It was very empowering and I feel like we were a really good mix that day," said Dr. Cynthia Griffin, a Med Flight physician.

Ficek, Griffin and flight nurse Deborah Volgarino were all assigned to the Portage base one day in mid-August.

The team took photos to document and celebrate the historic moment, then had to get to work responding by helicopter to a series of traumatic incidents.

Courtesy: UW Health

"It's what we do for a living, so it's like another day at the office," said Deborah Volgarino, a flight nurse. "It's what we've trained for and we're very comfortable providing that care."

It was a partnership that paid off.

"We worked really well together. We got along really, really well and we had just met that morning, too, all three of us," Griffin told 27 News. "It was a great day and we got a good mix of different calls and we did a lot of good that day."

The team of women came together for the first time in the middle of the pandemic. UW Med Flight has had to make some adjustments because of it, including a lot more PPE.

The crew says they've had to adapt to using the extra gear in the tight space of a helicopter. Plus, it's been harder to communicate with masks and face shields.

But it's communication and collaboration the crew quickly learned is their strength.

"The team dynamics was really good, how we communicated," Volgarino said.

The women say they worked with a respect for each other's roles in the air.

They hope a spotlight on their careers will be an inspiration to young women and girls.

"I never thought about becoming a pilot until I was in my 20s and if we can just plant the seed of a potential career in somebody younger, then it just opens options for the future," Ficek said. "It also celebrates diversity and different strengths we bring to the profession and that can be true for anybody, whether it's male or female. Just bringing in more diversity can amplify the strengths that every profession has."

After their historic day, the crew is continuing on their life-saving mission, knowing a team of women can do anything.

"It's nice to be that beacon of hope and know that although it might be someone's worst day, it's what we're ready for," Griffin said.

This all-women team worked together for the first time at the Portage Med Flight base. Ficek is based there, but the doctors and nurses rotate between schedules and locations, so it could be a while before this crew works together again. They say they'll be looking forward to future opportunities.

Jennifer Kliese

Weekend Anchor and Reporter, 27 News

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