Three miles up and three miles down. Dr. Kathleen Flarity has skydived more than 2,500 times out of balloons, Russian helicopters and even two Boeing 727 airliners. She’s inspired her children to free fall. But perhaps the biggest thrill Flarity’s experiencing right now is getting selected to become a fellow at the American Academy of Nursing in October. Academy fellows are nursing’s most accomplished leaders and among the nation’s most highly-educated citizens, proven to have left their mark on health care.
AAN Offers a Voice
“I’m very honored. It’s one thing to be recognized by people who don’t know what you do and another to be recognized by your peers nationally who understand the results of your work,” said Kathleen Flarity, DNP, PhD, CEN, CFRN, FAEN. “The Academy is a powerful organization that can offer a voice. I hope to inspire other nurses that they too can make a difference and an impact on multiple levels.”
The outdoor enthusiast is a Brigadier General in the U.S. Air Force (one of the highest positions a nurse can hold in the Air Force), an associate professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and the College of Nursing. She is also a UCHealth Research Nurse Scientist and Deputy Director of the Center for COMBAT Research at the School of Medicine. Her career spans clinical, academic, research and policy to improve the care of civilians and soldiers, warriors and warrior medics.
Whether it’s acute traumatic brain injury, suicides by firearms, oxygen treatment levels, and hemorrhage control, Dr. Flarity says civilian research can help soldiers in combat, and military research can improve civilian lives. Her job is to bring talented people together from medicine, academia, military and the industry, and make research happen.
CU Nursing Associate Professor Mona Pearl Treyball, PhD, RN, CSN, CCRN-K, FAAN, nominated Flarity for the fellowship after working with her in Afghanistan where they gave the wounded the newest, safest and evidence-based nursing care.
Proving Her Metal
“What impresses me most is her personal passion for the wellbeing of nurses and other healthcare workers. This comes through in the focus of her academic accomplishments, developing tools to prevent falls in the emergency room and studying interventions to address compassion fatigue among healthcare staff. What isn’t so obvious are the personal sacrifices she has made to achieve these efforts and the long hours she has invested to ensure nursing is fully represented in both academic and operational discussions. Her actions have truly been motivated by integrity and a desire to ensure equity for healthcare workers at all levels across all backgrounds. I am confident military nursing and the profession of nursing as a whole have advanced, in part, due to her dedication and hard work over her 40 years of service,” wrote Dr. Pearl Treyball to the Academy’s board.
Kathleen Flarity, DNP, PhD, CEN, CFRN, FAEN
Flarity started her military service at the age of 17 as an Army combat medic in the U.S. Army Airborne School. In 1986, the military had just started allowing women to serve, so she was one of nine women. She recalls weighing 110 pounds, in charge of a platoon of men, and having to make combat jumps with 85 pounds of gear; a reserve parachute in the front, a rifle at their sides and a rucksack between their legs.
“Do you want to quit?!” The Airborne instructors would yell at the soldiers every single day. She says they always answered, “Hell, no! Sergeant Airborne!”
Flying High -- From Combat Medic to Brigadier General
In her 41 years of military service and 23 years in aeromedical evacuation, she deployed to help support Operations Desert Shield, Desert Storm, Iraq and Enduring Freedom. She received an Air Medal for stellar performance personally flying 44 combat missions and caring for more than 3,000 patients overall during 450 critical care missions. Today as a reservist, she helps lead aeromedical evacuation crews and critical care transport teams to work in the full range of military operations, humanitarian assistance and disaster response.
It is a rare feat to start as a U.S. Army combat medic private and end up as a US Air Force Brigadier General.
"Success Takes Support: Failure You Can Do Alone"
“For me, it’s about a strong work ethic and perseverance. I’ve also had great mentors. No one gets to be where they are alone. Success takes support; failure you can do alone. I’ve been blessed that I’ve had people believe in me, sometimes push and challenge me, and I’ve been grateful for that,” she said.
It’s why she committed to mentoring other nurses in research, development and leadership.
“I always try to do a good job where I’m at. I tell others if you do good work now, the next opportunity will just present itself.”