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School of Medicine Columbia

  • Lesley Osborn, M.D., class of 2013

Alumna takes flight to save patients

Lesley Osborn is first female director for Life Flight®

As an undergrad, Lesley Osborn thought her career lay in being a paramedic, but after shadowing an orthopedic surgeon at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida, she changed her focus from paramedicine to medical school. Now she finds herself leading an air ambulance team through the COVID-19 pandemic.

With a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Clemson University, she applied to the University of South Carolina Medical School Columbia and completed her medical degree in 2013. She then had a choice to make of choosing to focus on surgery or emergency medicine.

“I didn’t think I could do without treating medical patients,” she says. “I enjoyed procedures in the OR, but I really enjoyed taking care of critically ill and injured patients. It’s a stimulating environment to work in, and I learn something new every day.”

Osborn completed her residency in emergency medicine at Prisma Health, then Palmetto Health Richland, in 2016. She continued her training with a fellowship in emergency medical services at the Red Duke Trauma Institute at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, where she became a full-time faculty member at McGovern Medical School in 2017.

In July 2019, Osborn was named as medical director for Life Flight®, the only hospital-based air ambulance service in Houston. The program provides life-saving care, retrieving critically ill and injured patients within a 150-mile radius of the Red Duke Trauma Institute.

The institute was founded in 1976, a legendary trauma surgeon who also became nationally known for his syndicated television reports “Dr. Red Duke Health Reports,” along with his iconic moustache. He served as medical director for the program until his passing in 2015 at the age of 86.

In her role as medical director, Osborn, who is only the program’s third director and its first female director, provides clinical oversight for the 21 flight nurses and 18 paramedics in developing best practices for medical protocols, preparing for flight review, as well as ensuring continuing education for team members and guidance on research and quality improvement.

When the COVID-19 pandemic began, Osborn was charged with developing the team’s guidelines to ensure the safety of both their patients and her team of flight nurses, flight paramedics and pilots.

“We had worked with patient’s with highly infectious diseases before, but there really were no standard guidelines on transporting these patients by air while keeping the crew safe,” she says. “We had to answer questions such as whether we could put protective personal equipment (PPE) on the pilots, how we would safely transport patients out of one hospital, into the helicopter and into the receiving hospital, and how to effectively decontaminate the helicopter after COVID-19 patient flights.”

Osborn says that she is appreciative of the efforts put in by flight programs from across the country to help develop COVID-19 flight protocols.

“It took three weeks to write the guidelines, and we relied on input from hospital administration, clinical experts, and our Life Flight® team, through virtual meetings and group discussions,” she says. “We are still providing the same high level of care as we did before, but the primary concern is to ensure our crews are safe and that we are not taking the virus home to our families, our partners and loved ones.”

Osborn would like to thank everyone at Life Flight® – “from our dispatchers, to our flight crews, to our maintenance personnel and administrative leadership. This was a team effort and being a part of such a dedicated group of prehospital clinicians during COVID-19 pandemic has been incredibly humbling.”

Osborn also deserves thanks for her service, most recently as a captain in the Medical Corps of the U.S. as a member of the Swamp Fox 169th Medical Group at McEntire Joint National Guard Base in Hopkins, S.C. She now serves in  the Air Force Reserves, where she will join the 308th Rescue Flight Squadron at Patrick Air Force Base near Cocoa Beach, Florida.

Osborn credits her medical school training and residency training in preparing her for this exciting and challenging role.

“Columbia may seem like a small city,” she says, “but when I travel throughout the country, I hear people talking about the program. The professors and clinical staff are truly invested in our education, and everyone is cared for and cared for well.”

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