How a Pilot Applies Aviation Safety Principles to Nursing

Rebecca Hendren, March 22, 2011

Gary Sculli responds to both "nurse" and "captain" and the interesting juxtaposition of those titles gives him a unique voice in the patient safety world.

Sculli began his career in the U.S. Air Force Nurse Corps., but after 10 years of nursing, he left to pursue his other passion: flying. He spent seven years flying at regional and major airlines both as first officer and captain. He also served as an aircrew instructor, training flight crews in state-of-the-art aircraft simulators.

Sculli's career path changed again following Sept. 11, 2001, when he was furloughed from the airlines due to industry downsizing. Sculli realized his flying career would be grounded for some time so he returned to nursing. He worked first as a nurse educator and then as a nurse manager, and soon realized that his years in the airline industry had completely changed his approach to nursing.

"I transitioned from an industry that consistently perpetuates a culture of safety, back into nursing, a noble profession that articulates desired patient outcomes quite well, but often fails to provide its personnel with the tools, resources, and environmental conditions for such outcomes to take place," said Sculli.

Sculli believes that many of the principles and concepts he learned and practiced within aviation's Crew Resource Management (CRM) can be applied to nursing practice to reduce the risks that patients are exposed to in the clinical environment. He says that adopting the basic tenets of CRM within any nursing care delivery model will create a tipping point for a cultural shift that puts safety first.

Rebecca Hendren Rebecca Hendren is a senior managing editor at HCPro, Inc. in Danvers, MA. She edits and manages The Leaders' Lounge blog for nurse managers. Email her at


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