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Jennifer Blanch knows her job with the Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia isn’t for everyone. But for her, there’s not a career in the world that could replace it.
The 2016 graduate of Cayuga crosses the country as part of a two-person team, caring primarily for critically-ill children while transporting them back to the Philadelphia hospital. Her high-stress work demands her best at all times, and a willingness to make life-saving decisions for her patients.
“We have to focus and stay calm. I’m always working with a partner, and our focus is the care and safety of the child. Our patients are critically ill, and often times we are alone with them without the presence of a doctor,” she said. “And we have to care for them while we’re in the air or on the road with fewer resources than a hospital would provide. But that’s what I wanted to do for a long time, and I’m proud of how we’ve saved lives.”
A 1996 graduate of Charles W. Baker High School in Baldwinsville, Blanch returned to college as a non-traditional student in 2015. Earning her degree was always on her list, but she had a family and decided to wait until her children were older before returning to school.
She toured Cayuga’s Fulton Campus, and there was an instant connection.
“I felt immediately drawn there. I liked that it was a smaller campus, and the classes were smaller so you had more direct conversation with your professors and it didn’t make me feel overwhelmed,” she said.
With several family ties to respiratory therapy careers, she decided to pursue a degree in Health Sciences instead of Nursing. During her time at Cayuga, she served as president of Phi Theta Kappa and tutored in math and science.
“I made a lot of friends, volunteering with PTK and tutoring other students,” she said. “I thought it would be harder to bond, going back to school when a lot of the other students were younger than me, but it wasn’t. It was a great opportunity.”
After earning her Health Sciences degree with a concentration in respiratory therapy, she transferred to Upstate University where she earned her bachelor’s degree and worked two years at the hospital. Much of that time was spent working on their transport team, where she helped care for critical patients.
During her time at Upstate, she learned of an opening in the Neonatal Pediatric Emergency Transport Team at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. As she describes it, she “threw a lifeline out” and applied for the job.
To her surprise, they chose her for the position in 2019.
“It was always a dream of mine, to be a part of a life-flight team. You have to have a lot of skills to work on that team, and in the grand scheme of things I only had a few years’ experience when I applied,” she said. “I kind of just threw myself out there, and they hired me.”
Her work takes her across the United States and sometimes other countries, traveling by ambulance, helicopter or plane and caring for patients while escorting them back to the Children’s Hospital. Their work includes everything from caring for extremely premature childbirths to caring for young adults.
The work is incredibly stressful but very rewarding, she said.
“We’re required to make difficult decisions, but we have to do them for the good of our patients,” she said. “It takes a special kind of person to want to do this job. We have to think not only about treatment for our patient, but also communication and transportation.”
There are still moments in her life and in her work when she leans on her time at Cayuga. It was a more lighthearted time in her life, but she remembers the lessons she learned at the College and the faculty and staff who made a difference in her life, like Professor Chris D’Arcy.
In particular, Cayuga helped her gain the confidence she needed to pursue her bachelor’s degree and the career she wanted as part of a medical team that saves lives.
“The confidence I built at Cayuga and the opportunities I was given at the College helped me grow into who I am now. There are still times when I realize I know how to do something because I learned it at Cayuga,” she said. “Sometimes when I doubt myself, I remember back to some of the opportunities I was given, and I realize I’m able to do this. Confidence. That’s the biggest thing I gained at Cayuga.”
Photo courtesy of Nayana Gadde