As a bank clerk in Geelong since his high school days, John Howes grew restless as the 1980s approached.
His desire to swap the routine of a nine-to-five job with something more varied, challenging and rewarding was growing more pressing.
"There was no grand plan really, just knowing that I needed a change," Mr Howes said.
"The interest in nursing came along at a time in my life when I was looking for something more than the Monday-to-Friday routine of life. It was an opportunity that presented itself and I'm always one for taking opportunities as they appear.
"I became a nurse in 1982 and it's taken me all over Australia and overseas, to so many interesting places working with a great many different people and patients."
After working in Geelong, Melbourne and Sydney, doing mainly intensive-care work, Mr Howes moved to London for two years, working at the renowned Guy's Hospital where he enjoyed the diversity of nursing across all medical fields, including in operating theatres.
His move to WA was another twist of fate when a small advertisement in a local newspaper for a nursing job with the Royal Flying Doctor Service caught his eye.
"It was just a little ad, but I saw it and thought 'Why not?' " Mr Howes said.
"I had spent some time working in Fremantle around the time of the America's Cup. I didn't know much about the WA hospital system when I first arrived, but it was a really worthwhile time because I gained good experience."
Travelling with his wife, Marie, Mr Howes had experienced the Kimberley, Broome and Derby, so the landscape and the people were familiar to him when he was posted by the RFDS to Derby in 1994.
"By that time I had my midwifery qualifications and I had experience in every facet of nursing," Mr Howes said.
"I had worked in neonates (infants), intensive care, emergency and every other area of adult nursing, so I was quite ready clinically for the challenges of the RFDS."
Seventeen years later, the 55-year-old father of three is one of the longest serving and experienced flight nurses in the 50-strong contingent that works from the RFDS's five permanent bases, but he counts his original team of five from his Derby days as the most influential people in his career.
"That group of nurses put me on the path to knowing that highly trained nurses can do a great deal for our remote communities," Mr Howes said. "They were a group of strong-minded, dedicated professionals who helped nurture my confidence.
"Confidence is very important because often times, especially in the early days, I was the only medical professional on about 80 per cent of the flights.
"Practising by yourself in some very isolated areas can be very challenging. These days there is a doctor on about 50 per cent of the flights, and having two sets of hands is always an advantage."
Presented most days from 6am with routine inter-hospital transfers from country hospitals and remote nursing stations to major hospitals, Mr Howes has also regularly treated critically ill motor vehicle, heart attack and trauma patients, and others in a fragile state, both physically and mentally.
"Our job is to talk to them while treating them and trying to keep things as calm as possible," he said.
"On some of the longer flights, that process can be quite exhausting. A lot of the time they can be quite badly injured but in a flustered state, and it's your job to keep them calm while sometimes battling to keep them alive."
Transporting the parents of critically ill children, however, has presented the most difficult situations of his 30-year career.
"You wear a lot of caps in this game," Mr Howes said. "The hardest part of the job is when children are involved. There have been situations that have brought tears to my eyes because the child you are carrying has been the victim of some horrible trauma and it's heartbreaking.
"You find yourself being the clinician as well as the counsellor for the parent who is in the aircraft while the child fights for life."
While each day is different, Mr Howes is proud of the sense of satisfaction he gets from working with minimal resources in towns as far afield as Halls Creek, Fitzroy Crossing, Kalgoorlie and Meekatharra.
"I get a big kick out of getting people to their destination safely, and thank goodness I have only ever lost one patient on a flight in 17 years," he said.
"We do everything we can to get them from one part of the State to another in the best condition possible.
"It's also wonderful to fly out into the Kimberley and take in one of the most visually exhilarating scenes you will ever see from your window."
When it came to the happy times, delivering a 32-week old baby from a remote community in the Western Desert was the biggest highlight, having had to rely on himself and an elder to deliver the premature infant.
"I realised quite quickly after arriving that the baby was going to be born shortly," Mr Howes said. "I took the woman on to the aircraft and asked one of the elderly ladies to come on with me.
"Being involved in a birth on an aircraft under a beautiful starry sky was one of the best moments of my life. Just having so much confidence in my midwifery skills and thinking 'I know what to do here' was the best feeling.
"I wrapped the baby up to keep it warm and took it to the door of the aircraft. It was pitch black outside and I couldn't see them, but there was quite a gathering there from the community that night and I could hear their appreciative murmurs."It was one of those very special moments in life."
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