Jennifer Fletcher-Kelley brings medical care to rural Midwest and South through role at Air Evac

College of Nursing alumna Jennifer Fletcher-Kelley worked her way up through the ranks at Air Evac Lifeteam and is now vice president of patient care services. (Photo by August Jennewein)

College of Nursing alumna Jennifer Fletcher-Kelley worked her way up through the ranks at Air Evac Lifeteam and is now vice president of patient care services. (Photo by August Jennewein)

Jennifer Fletcher-Kelley knows what it’s like to have one decision make the difference between life or death. She’s started IVs, used defibrillators and performed life-saving procedures at patients’ bedsides while thousands of feet in the air.

The College of Nursing alumna’s career took her soaring through the sky as a flight nurse before landing her current position as vice president of patient care services for Air Evac Lifeteam, a company that offers emergency medical care to the Midwest and South via helicopter.

Fletcher-Kelley oversees a department of 26 employees who are responsible for patient safety, clinical quality, nurse and paramedic training and meeting accreditation standards.

For her, it’s a labor of love.

“I grew up in a very rural part of Missouri,” she says. “The closest hospitals were at least an hour’s drive away. My lack of timely access to health care could have negatively impacted my health. Air Evac Lifeteam has always been devoted to putting resources where people need them – in the rural communities where they live.”

Like her devotion to rural Missouri, a health-care career was in her DNA. Her grandmother worked as the first official home health aide in the state, and Fletcher- Kelley was inspired by her service to others.

Fletcher-Kelley was already pursuing a bachelor of science in nursing when her program merged with University of Missouri–St. Louis. The integration offered access to courses that trained her to look at patients’ symptoms holistically.

After completing her degree, she began her career as a burn care ICU nurse before exploring other specialties. She moved to a position in an emergency department then joined Air Evac as a flight nurse a year later.

The blend of bedside nursing, emergency medical services and aviation proved to be an ideal combination.

“There are no X-ray machines or laboratory services to help you diagnose your patient,” she says. “It’s just you, your partner, your cumulative experience, skills and training. I loved the variety and critical thinking.”

Fletcher-Kelley was instrumental in opening an Air Evac base in St. Clair, Missouri, and her role in the company continued to grow.

As a VP, she pursues the same mission she had as a flight nurse but on a broader scale: provide the care patients need.

“There is no greater feeling than to see your work positively impact another human being,” she says. “Not everyone gets to leave their office at the end of the day knowing they made a difference. That’s a gift.”

This story was originally published in the spring 2020 issue of UMSL Magazine. If you have a story idea for UMSL Magazine, email magazine@umsl.edu.

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