Date of Award


Document Type



Edith Cowan University

Degree Name

Master of Nursing


Faculty of Communications, Health and Science

First Supervisor

Bronwyn Jones

Second Supervisor

Dr Rycki Maltby


Clinical decision making is an integral, multifaceted phenomenon fundamental to nursing practice. The domain of flight nursing practice is unique in terms of knowledge, structure, clinical presentations and environment. The uniqueness and diversity of patient scenarios and the advanced practice level of the flight nurse role blend to provide a potential rollercoaster flight mission. At the time this research was conducted nursing standards to guide clinical decision making were being developed. Medically orientated clinical guidelines were in place, but they were designed to highlight a specific, well defined clinical scenario or skill. It has been argued that guidelines for nursing practice do not always parallel the complex clinical situations in which advanced practitioners may find themselves (Malone, 1992b). Flight Nurse Specialists (FNSs) with greater than two years flight nursing experience employed by the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) - Western Operations were interviewed regarding their experiences of clinical decision making in emergency situations. Using a phenomenological methodology, indepth interviews were audiotaped and transcribed. The interviews were analysed using the method described by Colaizzi (1978). Data was described and interpreted, common themes were extrapolated and analysed. A Gestalt of Knowing was identified by the interconnection and interrelationships of the extrapolated themes. The three themes are: Ways of Knowing the Patient, Context of Knowing and Reflective Practice. Ways of Knowing the Patient is constructed with the sub-themes intuitive knowing, experiential knowing and objective knowing. The second theme, Context of Knowing, is made up of the sub-themes aviation environment, non or minimised involvement in triage, knowing co11eagues, solo practitioner, experiential level and practice guidelines. Self-critique and change in practice formed the theme Reflective Practice. Findings provide a significant contribution to the knowledge of clinical decision making in nursing and to the practice of flight nursing in the Western Australian context. Several recommendations arose from the findings in relation to further research, policy making, standards development and practice developments. Further research is needed into the themes and sub-themes. FNSs need to be allowed to undertake the role of triage for those flights that they will undertake as the solo health professional. The development of standards for flight nursing would benefit from the consideration of the findings of this study and other qualitative studies of clinical decision making. Reflective practice should be considered as a mechanism for not only evaluating practice but as a mechanism for identifying stressful events.