Air Ambulances UK
Fleur standing in front of GWAAC helicopter smiling.
Jessica Thomas-Mourne from Devon Air Ambulance smiling


Air Ambulances UK were proud to announce a week-long celebration for International Women’s Day on March 8th,

dedicated to honouring the remarkable contributions of women in our sector.

Throughout the week, we spotlight the incredible women who make invaluable contributions to the air ambulance industry.

We spoke with Fleur Rath from GWAAC regarding her experiences as a women in HEMS

Fleur shared a significant moment from her past that fuelled her decision to pursue a career in Helicopter Emergency Medical Services (HEMS). When her mother had a fall down the stairs, Fleur and her brother had to call 999 for help. This experience highlighted the critical importance of prompt emergency response and inspired Fleur’s dedication to making a difference in HEMS.

Jessica Thomas-Mourne Quote

Introducing Our Quickfire Q&A With Simmy Akhtar, CEO of Air Ambulances UK

Discover our quickfire questions and answers with Simmy below. Just click the arrows next to the questions to read into her enlightening responses.

What do you find most rewarding about being CEO of Air Ambulances UK?

It’s a real privilege to be in a position where I work with my team at Air Ambulances UK to make a positive difference to patients, families, loved ones in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, coupled with supporting the air ambulance charities across the UK – Making a Difference is what is most rewarding to me!

What advice would you give to other women aspiring to leadership roles?

Stay focussed, it may not happen overnight, there may be ups and downs but if you really want it keep going and if possible, seek a mentor or someone who can be there to listen and reflect with you and has the time to commit to supporting you on that journey.  Remember, even those who are always smiling will have faced challenges on their path.

Which women inspire you the most?

Number one for me is my Mum. There are also many from both my personal life and work life, I would say there are lots and women are uniquely inspiring if we listen to their story!

How do you maintain a work-life balance as a CEO, and what advice would you give to other women striving to balance career and personal life?

Personally, I feel this question should be asked of all and not just women.  So many of us have worked and continue to work to achieve equality, and this question often crops up for women only, which for me does not make sense as the balance of career and personal life affects all individuals one way or another. So, my advice for all is find something you love to be part of, be kind to yourself and just do your best – if it’s not working for you, take a step back and assess your options – what can you do to make things better for you?  It may just be taking that lunch break walk or it could be something else.

What is the most important message you want to send out to young women thinking about their careers?

Don’t worry if you don’t have it all worked out, but have some sort of plan and understand ‘You’ – what do you enjoy doing, what are you good at and what brings out the best in you? Ultimately, don’t hesitate to change your career path if it’s the right thing for you. If you are passionate about your area of work, continue to pursue it with confidence.

This year’s International Women’s Day theme is #InspireInclusion, what does this mean to you?

Let’s support each other to be the best version of ourselves no matter who we are.

Henrietta Davies smiling at camera in helicopter cockpit

Interviewing Women Within HEMS

Explore our exclusive interviews below, simply click the arrows next to the questions to read into their insightful responses.

Hannah Nobbs

Who or what influenced you as a child in terms of your career?

My Dad was a physics teacher, so my curiosity about how things work was encouraged by my parents and teachers at school. My A-level physics teacher had a degree in Aerospace engineering and that made me aware that it was something I might be interested in when I completed school. I don’t really know where my desire to fly came from, as no family or friends were involved with aviation. I was enthused about helicopters following a visit to the international helicopter museum in Weston-Super-Mare as a teenager and more recently discovered that I had been given an air ambulance toy that flew over my cot, so maybe that influence was there all along!

What challenges did you encounter in education and/or your career and how did you overcome them?

Many! I couldn’t pass the military pilot medical because I wear glasses to correct short sight and flying as a civilian was prohibitively expensive so I studied to become an engineer instead. 

I missed the maths grade that I needed to go to the University I wanted to be at, but through much perseverance on the phone and advocacy from my head teacher the university allowed me to start the course. I got focussed and passed the first two years of my degree which enabled me to transfer from the Bachelor’s to Master’s engineering course. I also had to retake all my professional pilot exams because they are only valid a few years and I didn’t have enough funds to complete the practical flying elements in time. I had another go after a gap of about eight years when I had saved a bit more from working as an engineer. 

A scholarship that funded my private helicopter licence and introduced me to a fantastic mentor, Dennis Kenyon, gave me hope that I could fly. However due to the cost of hour building and professional flight training it was to take me 15 years to get my commercial licence and a further year to complete an instrument rating to become a professional helicopter pilot. It is thanks to a huge community of other pilots, friends and family and colleagues who have supported and encouraged me to get to my dream job of flying for helicopter emergency medical services. 

How did you career journey bring you to this point?

That will be in my book when I get round to completing it! In summary, it has been a quite an adventure with lots of hard work and much luck in timings along the way. A journey via helicopter design, working for the RNLI as an Innovation Scout, being involved in the regulation of Spaceflight and several years as a volunteer for Dorset and Somerset Air Ambulance who I am now proud to fly for. 

Are there ongoing challenges today linked to your gender?

I have had an entirely positive experience from within the flying industry with regards to gender and have felt welcomed, encouraged and treated equally to my peers. Most of the engagement with the public is positive and many are enthusiastic about seeing a pilot who is female. There have been occasions where I have been asked if I will get to be a ‘proper pilot’ one day, or if I was the passenger. It doesn’t seem that my male colleagues get asked the same question, so my hope over time, is that by being seen out and about more, might make it a bit more normal for people. My best friend’s son thinks all helicopter pilots are female because I am the only pilot he has met so far! 

There are also some practicalities about Helicopter Emergency Medical Service (HEMS) missions, such as not knowing how long you will be away from the base. That means being opportunistic about toilet breaks – when we get to hospital or back to base to refuel. A two-piece flying overall has changed my life in this respect. When I first started, I had a one piece flying overall, which was a bit of a challenge, especially in the winter when I had additional layers of clothing too. 

Do you think there could be more female representation within HEMS? If so, what steps can the sector take to achieve this?

There absolutely could and should be. As said above, the industry is welcoming and ready! The role of a HEMS pilot is very much about people – working as part of a high performing team of professionals and interacting with members of the public. I think that cost is a huge barrier for anyone training as a civilian pilot, but when reflecting on why there aren’t more female hems pilots or commercial helicopter pilots in general, my personal view is that often it is a question of risk appetite. I don’t mean from a safety point of view; I mean risk of financial uncertainty. I think young women are often encouraged to be risk adverse and be careful and think of how our career choices affect others. I remember worrying if I was being too selfish wanting to take on the financial risk of being a pilot, because ultimately it is a huge investment and can all be for nothing if you can’t get a flying job or lose your medical. 

What do you find most rewarding about your role?

There are so many aspects of my job that are rewarding! Top of the list is the sense of purpose from being able to help people. It’s a privilege to be a part of someone’s life and hopefully contribute to a better outcome on what could be the worst day for our patients and their families. I love working with the rest of the crew at Dorset and Somerset Air Ambulance and we are a great team. I’ve learned a lot from flying with our experienced captains and I am in awe of my medical colleagues. Then there is the flying, landing and taking off from places we’ve never been to before, by day and by night. When the night is clear and we are wearing night vision goggles it can be so beautiful and we often see shooting stars. The other aspect that I really appreciate after 15 years of working predominantly at a desk, is just how active our day can be. I love working outside (despite the challenges of extreme winter or summer conditions) and it makes me feel very liberated.  

What recommendations or advice would you offer to women aspiring to work within HEMS?

Keep moving towards your goal, but don’t worry if it’s a longer or more winding path than you hoped; it all builds useful experience. Build your networks and talk to those who do the role you are interested in. Make the most of volunteering opportunities for air ambulance charities and always have multiple back up plans. For aspiring helicopter pilots, get very familiar with weather conditions, as most of the stressful decisions we have to make are due to the wonderfully ever-changing weather we experience in the UK. 

Who or what influenced you as a child in terms of your career?

I was influenced in my career by my grandfather who was a doctor of tropical medicine and my mother who is a specialist hydrotherapist. It initiated my interest in working within healthcare and wanting to help people. I was fortunate to watch them in their line of work and the impact they had on the individuals they treated. 

What challenges did you encounter in education and/or your career and how did you overcome them?

There have been plenty of challenges along the way and there is no clear pathway or framework to follow for critical care or HEMS. I undertook a postgraduate masters to support my learning and development in critical care whilst working as a full-time paramedic. As the opportunities are limited I ensured I focused my training and learning towards critical care but also broadening my horizons by getting experience in varying other roles within the ambulance service and education.   

How did your career journey bring you to this point?

I was fortunate enough that one of my mentors was a critical care paramedic in SECAMB and it provided me an insight into critical care. I knew I wanted to focus my career in this specialist area and once qualifying as a paramedic I took a few years to consolidate my skills before focusing on becoming a critical care paramedic. I started my paramedic journey at SECAMB before transferring to EEAST, where I worked as a frontline paramedic, before applying for a role in training and education. I spent a few years in training and education supporting students and staff before applying for HEMS and getting a job with EHAAT.  

Are there ongoing challenges today linked to your gender?

There is always a challenge in any role and managing competing demands in your personal and professional life. I work alongside some amazing and inspiring women within EHAAT who are incredible role models.

Do you think there could be more female representation within HEMS? If so, what steps can the sector take to achieve this?

There definitely could be more female representation in HEMS and I feel that the sector could think about flexible working, family friendly rotas and improving the accessibility for women. 

What do you find most rewarding about your role?

I find patient care the most rewarding part of my role, being able to deliver time critical, lifesaving treatment which will improve patient outcomes, whilst working alongside a team of dedicated and exceptional people whose focus is to deliver excellent patient care.  

What recommendations or advice would you offer to women aspiring to work within HEMS?

My best advice is to gain experience as a paramedic and get involved in clinical governance days, training and other CPD opportunities that you have available. 

Sinead Keane
Zoey Spurgeon

Who or what influenced you as a child in terms of your career?

I knew from a fairly young age that I wanted work in healthcare, specifically, with EHAAT. A family friend was a HEMS paramedic here, and I was lucky enough to visit the airbase as a teenager. I’ve always been impressed by the work they do and it’s a real privilege to now be a part of that team. 

What challenges did you encounter in education and/or your career and how did you overcome them?

It takes a lot of hard work and doing shift work to be a paramedic, but it’s very rewarding. Once I succeeded in becoming a paramedic, I knew I wanted to be a critical care paramedic for the air ambulance. Achieving that has been the pinnacle of my career.  

How did you career journey bring you to this point?

I’ve been a paramedic for 11 years and have always been interested in working within critical care. To achieve this, I followed the required attributes of a CCP, by studying hard and volunteering for a local critical care scheme before passing the air ambulance recruitment process. 

Are there ongoing challenges today linked to your gender?

No, at Essex & Herts Air Ambulance we are lucky to have inspirational women in all levels of the organisation from the CEO, to the consultant team, to our amazing doctors and CCPs and to all the charity staff and volunteers.  

What do you find most rewarding about your role?

This job enables me to deliver life-saving treatment to our patients whilst working alongside an amazing team. The job is so rewarding, and I am always so inspired by our patients’ journeys and hearing about the challenges they have overcome. The thing I enjoy the most at EHAAT is that every member of the team contributes in their own way to achieve the overall objective of delivering life-saving treatment to patients. 

What recommendations or advice would you offer to women aspiring to work within HEMS?

My best advice for anyone interested in becoming a CCP in HEMS, is to first look at applying for a paramedic degree. Once qualified, look at gaining experience, as most HEMS roles require 5 years post registration practice. Use this time to prepare yourself with the knowledge, skills and experience required of a CCP. Consider trying to get involved with the charity you would love to work for, attend any open clinical governance events, look at volunteering, and look to support the charity with any fundraising events.  There is a lot to become a critical care paramedic in HEMS, but the role is very rewarding! Work hard and stand out. 

We spoke with Jessica Thomas-Mourne from DAA about being a female within HEMS.

Jessica Thomas-Mourne, from Devon Air Ambulance, shared her insights as a woman in Helicopter Emergency Medical Services (HEMS). Despite the field’s predominantly male environment, Jessica has excelled. She stressed the need to overcome gender stereotypes and making it more accessible for women to join HEMS. Jessica’s perspective highlights the significance of inclusivity, advocating for equal opportunities for all individuals interested in pursuing careers in HEMS.

Becky shares what a day in the life of a Doctor within HEMS looks like.

Join Rebecca Morris, a dedicated doctor at Magpas Air Ambulance, as she offers a first-hand account of the daily challenges and responsibilities encountered by air ambulance charities in delivering critical care in high-pressure situations. From administering anaesthetics to conducting blood transfusions, Rebecca delves into the unique demands of providing advanced medical treatment amidst numerous challenges.