I took a risk! Second of a three-part series about nurse entrepreneurs
Behind every entrepreneur is a story. This is my story.
I am a nurse and the owner of AirCARE1 International. My company is a fixed-wing, long-range air ambulance provider, transporting patients throughout North, Central, and South America, as well as wing-to-wing transfers to locations worldwide.
I was the mother of five children when I went back to school to become a nurse shortly after my last child was born. In fact, my desire to become a nurse was a direct result of the poor care I experienced during a hospital stay. I knew that, when I became a nurse, I would provide better patient care than I had received.
For several years, I kept up the daunting challenge of juggling nursing school, clinicals, and raising my brood. After what seemed like an eternity, my perseverance paid off, and I graduated with a BSN in the top 10 of my class. I spent the next few years in a variety of critical care settings, including SICU, ICU, CCU, and, eventually, the emergency department. I was grateful that nursing provided me with options to work in a wide variety of clinical settings. Becoming a flight nurse
Through contacts in the emergency department, I was recruited to interview with a long-range air ambulance company that flew Learjets throughout North, Central, and South America. I had always been fascinated with aviation, and to combine my skills as a nurse with flying was an exciting proposition. I was offered and accepted the flight nurse position.
I quickly fell in love with the job and decided I wanted to pursue a career as a flight nurse. I couldn’t think of a better way to utilize my nursing skills than in that very autonomous critical care environment. I loved to fly, and the opportunity to transport patients safely and urgently to their destinations provided me with the greatest job satisfaction in the world. Who of my colleagues could say they flew to Guatemala or Boston—all in a day’s work—while helping to care for others and possibly save lives?
After adapting to this new environment, however, I became aware of safety issues that affected me as well as my ability to provide the best patient care. When I voiced my concerns to the owners of the company, their reply was, “When you own your own company, you can do it anyway you want.” They had no interest in making any changes in how they did business.
Although I loved the job, I became frustrated with the situation, and it began to affect me personally. After a few months of complaining, someone close to me advised me that I had two options: I could either change my attitude or change my job! What a simple concept! I decided right then and there to change my attitude and my job! I was going to start my own air ambulance company, because I knew I could do it better.
My passion and vision were to start an air ambulance company that would surpass all others in delivering the highest quality patient care, comfort, and safety. I did not want to settle for anything less. Starting my company
I founded the company with a partner, a retired U.S. Air Force pilot. Infused with our own equity, we pooled our experiences, talents, and resources for our dream and then started looking for additional capital for our new venture. After many hurdles, rejections, sweat, and tears, we finally found in 2005 a traditional funding source that believed in our mission and provided the capital to start AirCARE1 International.
As an owner of the new company, I took my vision on the road and marketed to potential clients what I felt was a different kind of air ambulance company. Our mission was to do what was right by our patients at all times. We would transport them in a pleasant medical environment that was as good as, or better than, what we found them in and would do so in executive quality aircraft.
I also wanted our patient transports to be as stress-free as possible. By utilizing a holistic approach to patient care—providing patients, for example, with noise-cancelling headsets with therapeutic music and hand massages with aromatherapy—we would be able to reduce their stress tremendously. This provided peace of mind for our patients and, in turn, for their families and loved ones. The positive response from potential clients to my vision of patient care was overwhelming.
We started operations with one leased Learjet and four employees. In the beginning, I handled marketing for the company, answered calls for transports, gave out quotes, booked flights, worked as a nurse on the flights, and did the invoicing. And then, day after day, I did it all over again as we built our client base.
As we transported their patients safely to their destinations, our customers appreciated our efforts and came to truly believe in our mission. After 18 months, we acquired another leased aircraft to satisfy the demand, doubling our fleet!
In the ensuing years, the company both succeeded and struggled—but, despite the hurdles placed before us, we turned our struggles into positive learning experiences and continued to grow. By 2010, our strategic vision to grow the company had truly commenced. We were able to turn in one leased aircraft and purchase our own Learjet. In 2011, we purchased our second aircraft and returned our last leased aircraft. In 2014, I bought out my business partner, and AirCARE1 International became a 100-percent woman-owned company. In 2015, our growth continued and we purchased our third Learjet.
In the best of times, starting a business is very difficult, especially when naysayers tell you that you won’t succeed. For me to make it as a female in a male-dominated industry required an extraordinary amount of time, energy, determination, and belief in myself that I would indeed succeed. When men came up to me and condescendingly stated that, when I failed, they would utilize my aircraft for their patient transports, I would smile sweetly and press on smartly, determined to prove them wrong.
One of the first lessons I learned as an entrepreneur was to never listen to people who tell you something can’t be done. Ignore them, follow your passion, and go after what you believe in. Be bold, be fearless, be respectful, but be determined and tenacious! Lessons learned
I discovered the secret of success is abiding by the four R’s that I identified in my business: 1) Hire the right people. 2) Provide them with the right training. 3) Give your team the right equipment to do the job successfully. 4) And, most importantly, hire good people with the right attitude! Success is having a team that shares your passion and vision for making a difference in the lives of patients.
As the leader of my company, I learned I was always on stage and that my role is to support, manage, and inspire a great team of individuals in doing what is right for our patients at all times. To succeed in business, you have to have belief and passion for what you do. This is what will see you through the dark days of struggles and uncertainty. You also have to have courage to risk it all, including possibly your own financial well-being. Owning a business is truly a 24/7 commitment and not for the faint of heart, because it is nearly impossible to achieve a balance between running a business and your personal life.
Building relationships is an important part of building a great company. Developing great relationships with those who believe in what we do has provided my company the opportunity to make a great difference in the lives of countless patients. There is a positive synergy in those who align with you in helping you achieve success.
In the past 10 years, AirCARE1 International has grown from one leased aircraft and four employees to three owned aircraft and more than 60 employees. During this time, I have learned to adapt, improvise, and overcome, and, when that fails, I’ve learned to press on smartly. Sometimes the only easy day was yesterday, but that is what tomorrows are for. As a business owner, I understand the bottom line, but as a nurse, I understand it’s all about patient care. Denise Waye, BSN, RN, is owner and president of AirCARE1 International, a medical air ambulance company located in Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA. Click here for more information about the company.
Read the other articles in the I took a risk! series:
Part 1: My public speaking journey
Part 3: My relentless pursuit of opportunity