Providing care in the sky: Nursing graduate's career has taken flight.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Photo of Katie Harris.DUBUQUE—Katie Harris’s nursing education and experience has brought her to new heights.

Now the Chief Flight Nurse for AirCare3 and an  Emergency Room nurse for MercyOne Dubuque Medical Center, Harris enrolled at Northeast Iowa Community College in summer 2001. The great fit of the Associate Degree Nursing program, combined with the positive, firsthand experiences her mother Ellen Asmussen shared as an NICC Nursing graduate, brought her to the College.

After graduation in December 2003, she enrolled in the R.N.-to-B.S.N. program, an agreement between NICC and University of Iowa that would advance her education. MercyOne Dubuque hired Harris in January 2004 and she was immediately drawn to the energy, pace and challenge of ER nursing. For the past 15 years, she has served as an ER nurse.

“As soon as I graduated from Northeast Iowa Community College, I believed it was important for me to continue my education, especially while I was still in the ‘school-frame-of-mind.’ At Mercy getting into the ER as a nurse was my goal – and it became my passion,” Harris recalled.

During her work at MercyOne Dubuque, the prospect of serving as a flight nurse on AirCare emerged. The University of Iowa AirCare team, along with MercyOne Dubuque, started to actively recruit Harris and encourage her to apply.

“My first thought was, ‘those things crash,’ and I was reluctant. I declined the initial offer, at first; and then later accepted the second offer, thinking, that sounds fun!” she said. Harris has served as the Chief Flight Nurse for AirCare3 since 2016.

Headshot photo of Katie Harris.“I was thinking about different paths I could take with my nursing career. It sounded like something fun to do; as if the ER wasn't exciting enough, I decided to jump on a helicopter,” Harris said, laughing. “I think I just needed something more.”

The helicopter flies 130 miles per hour and 2,000 feet above the ground in its near-daily trips between area hospitals to larger facilities, such as University of Iowa-Hospitals and Clinics and UW-Madison Hospitals and Clinics.

Harris estimates that AirCare flies about 1.5 missions a day, on average each week. The crew and pilot communicate during each flight, and there is a tremendous level of trust between the three-person crew on every flight – there is one pilot, one nurse and one paramedic, she explained.

On board the aircraft, virtually the same type of medical equipment found in a ground-based ambulance is available for patient care. There are some key differences in equipment and care because of circumstances, however. In AirCare, the flight crew provides a higher level of care to the patient. There are more medications that can be administered, including those for sedation, pain and blood pressures for critical emergencies. There are physiological changes that patients may experience while in flight that must be observed and treated as well. More education and training is also required of flight crew, including a higher level of patient care, aircraft knowledge and handling, FFA regulations and policies.

“In the nursing profession, it’s important to emphasize that you never want to stop learning. There are always more opportunities out there. I would advise to future nurses to not be afraid to try new roads or paths. Don’t be afraid to expand or broaden your horizons,” Harris said.

Harris comes from a family of healthcare professionals. Her mother was a nurse, and she has aunts who are nurses. Her stepdad, Dr. Frederick Asmussen, is a retired Dubuque physician. Her younger sister, Megan, enrolled in the NICC nursing program in fall 2018.

“Northeast Iowa Community College developed the foundation where I could take my life and career where I wanted it to go. I built such a strong bond with my nursing classmates and loved my classes and clinicals. The support from the College’s instructors, and the comfortability in talking and learning from them, prepared me as a graduate to be a bedside nurse with the skills I needed. The College’s Nursing faculty taught and required hard-working skills and ethic; they held every one of their students to high standards. Some of the best nurses I worked with and learned from, are NICC nursing graduates – you can spot them right away,” she said.

In 2016, Harris was named to the 100 Great Nurses in Iowa list through University of Iowa College of Nurses. The graduate serves and has served in a variety of leadership capacities for MercyOne Dubuque, community organizations and agencies, including, Iowa Association of Air Medical Services-Iowa Chapter (AAMS-IA), MercyOne Magnet Sparkler, Ethics and Performance Improvement committees, the Disaster Medical Assistance Team, American Heart Walk, the Dubuque County Sexual Assault Response Team and medical assistance for Run4Troops Marathon.

Her many medical certifications include Certified Emergency Nurse, NRP Neonatal Resuscitation, Advanced Cardiac Life Support, Trauma Nurse Specialist, Pediatric Advanced Life Support and the Iowa Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner course.

The Associate Degree Nursing (ADN) program at Northeast Iowa Community College prepares students to assess, plan, implement and evaluate the healthcare needs of patients and clients. This comprehensive program includes specific nursing courses as well as core course requirements in the areas of communication, science, math and social science. Classroom activities are closely correlated with selected learning experiences in hospitals and other healthcare settings. After successful program completion, graduates are eligible to write the National Licensure Exam (NCLEX) to become a registered nurse. The program is approved by the Iowa Board of Nursing. This program participates in a state-wide articulation program which facilitates transfer of ADN graduates to four-year institutions within Iowa for the advanced study of nursing.

Learn more about the challenging and rewarding Nursing programs at NICC. Visit