Skip to main content

Before she took the job at Airlift Northwest, Chris Martin, executive director, was afraid of flying.

“If you would have told me 11 years ago that I would take this job, I would have told you that you are crazy,” says Martin. “I used to be scared of the thought of flying; now I love it.”

Airlift Northwest works with first responders and hospital staff to transport patients via aircraft to wherever they need to go to receive definitive care.

When her boss at the time, Johnese Spisso, chief health system officer at UW Medicine, asked her if she was interested in taking the job at Airlift, her first instinct was to say no.

But it was what Spisso said next that encouraged her to take the leap.

“Her comment to me was, ‘We are not asking you to fly the airplanes, Chris, we want you to run the program,’” says Martin.

Landing a career in emergency medicine

chris martin in nursing gear

During her first year of college, Martin was unsure what she wanted to do or what she should major in. Her mom, who was a nurse, encouraged her to volunteer at Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital in Tacoma.

“I watched what the nurses did and decided that is what I wanted to do,” says Martin.

And that work has been fueling her ever since.

After nursing school, Chris Martin was a pediatric nurse at UW Medical Center – Montlake. She transferred to Harborview Medical Center’s emergency department and eventually took a leadership position as the administrative director of Emergency Trauma Services. She held that position for 23 years before leading the team at Airlift.

“I feel incredibly lucky and privileged to have had these jobs,” says Martin. “When you are happy and doing something you believe in, you will do your best work.”

Earning her wings

Chris Martin Helicopter

Once at Airlift, Martin was taking on other challenges beyond her fear of flying.

Airlift was going through a turbulent time: an outside service had been running the business, there was significant financial hardship and the retirement of founding director Michael Copass, MD, had put Airlift in a bit of a tailspin.

Under Martin’s leadership, Airlift started to soar. Within two years of taking the job, Airlift had turned itself around financially.

“Now our biggest challenge is competition in the area that we haven’t had before,” says Martin. “We want to grow, not retract, and we want to help areas that need our services.”

Martin believes that this growth can happen.

“We have a great group of people who are committed to working hard together to get patients transported,” says Martin. “And I have no qualms about leaving them.”

Logging in 40 years at UW Medicine, Martin has had many mentors and has been a mentor for many.

“My success was because of people that helped me along the way,” says Martin.

Martin’s gratitude for her mentors inspired her to become one herself; she has mentored countless students over the years and is passionate about being an advocate for the healthcare profession.

Flight to retirement now boarding

Just as she once was about flying, Martin is nervous about retirement.

“I need to make sure I keep busy enough,” says Martin. “But I am looking forward to my retirement.”

With retirement, she plans to continue getting her care at UW Medicine and helping to raise money and support for Airlift Northwest.

Most of all, she looks forward to enjoying her time with her four grandchildren and husband, and she is excited to connect with family and friends. She has a family reunion in Arizona coming up — and, yes, she will be flying.

“At the end of all of it, I did my best and I gave my best,” says Martin. “It’s been a great ride and I have no regrets.”


Leave a Reply