Perth Health Heroes: How the Flying Doctor is responding to Coronavirus

April 20, 2020


How would you celebrate the end of the Coronavirus Pandemic?

Ms Sonia Nolan, Head of Communications and Giving at Royal Flying Doctor Service Western Australia, smiles and says:

“I think we would all probably want to give each other a really big hug”.

Ms Sonia Nolan, Head of Communications and Giving at Royal Flying Doctor Service, Western Australia
Ms Sonia Nolan, Head of Communications and Giving at Royal Flying Doctor Service Western Australia

She says that the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS) in WA is a service of professionals working together in sometimes stressful and unique circumstances.

Every day, they save lives and provide emergency and community healthcare across the vast and remote regions of WA.

We cover more than 2.5 million square kilometres – the world’s largest health jurisdiction.

Ms Sonia Nolan, RFDS

They’re the mobile intensive care units of the sky with a fleet of 18 aircraft and five aeromedical bases in WA (Broome, Port Hedland, Meekatharra, Kalgoorlie and Jandakot).

RFDS aircraft
RFDS “Intensive Care Unit in the Sky”

However, coronavirus has brought unprecedented challenges. How can you contain a global virus that could threaten wide parts of WA?

Over nine weeks have elapsed since RFDS WA first transferred its first patient with COVID-19 and many more suspected and/or confirmed patients have been cared for since then.

The service has invested in being response ready to ensure protocols, equipment, aircraft and logistics are in place to ensure the safety of all patients and the doctors, nurses and pilots on board.

While the clinicians and pilots are on the frontline, the behind the scenes teams supporting the emergency response are also working tirelessly – including the communications team which Sonia leads. 

“This will be a marathon rather than a sprint,” Sonia said.

The keys to success to date have been clear for her already. They include strong leadership from her CEO, cohesive teamwork and an “amazingly supportive” family.

Like for many others across the state, the hours have been long for Sonia, both at the office and at home. She has seen her team at RFDS do what might be “two months’ worth of work in a week”.

“Everyone is just rising to the professionalism that they need to show.”

Ms Sonia Nolan, RFDS

Yet, each team member respects one another’s time. This includes checking in with one another for self-care.

As a team, they have quickly adapted to the challenges of working from home. This includes streamlining their process of setting priorities, working diligently and sharing results.

What are the most important messages for WA families? Sonia encourages people to follow reputable sources of information and all the public health messages

“It really does make a difference if we have good hand hygiene and cough etiquette, use social distancing and self-isolation.  I would stress though that we must keep in touch with one another and keep the community and friendship spirit alive.”

What will RFDS teamwork look like at the end of Coronavirus Pandemic?

“I think the world has changed significantly and the experience of COVID-19 will be with us for a while to come,” Sonia said.

“Without a doubt, technology has been an important tool. It has enabled my team to explore in-office and remote work options and I think going forward there may be a hybrid of the best of the old and the best of the new”.

The RFDS frontline teams are working with upgraded Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and stricter protocols and they are responding to the healthcare needs across WA as they always have done.

When we look to the future, we’re confident that the coronavirus pandemic will be managed and little by little we will be able to enjoy some of the simple pleasures we once took for granted.

Let’s celebrate our Perth Health Heroes!

Imagine the smiles, warm handshakes and hugs when the pandemic is over. Can you think of a better team to look after you?

Sonia is part of the Ezekiel Eyes Community in Perth. She wears contact lenses prescribed by Damon Ezekiel.

Sonia says that Damon is “genuinely interested in you as a person and he’s genuinely interested in finding the right solution for you”.

Book an appointment now with Damon Ezekiel or Rhiannon Richer at

Want to donate to RFDS? You can donate at


In addition to owning and managing Ezekiel Eyes, Damon is a contact lens consultant to various research organisations. He regularly lectures and conducts workshops in contact lens practice throughout Australia, Asia and the United States. Damon graduated from the University of NSW with a Bachelor of Optometry in 1989. He is now married with two children and enjoys running, hockey, swimming, piano, travelling and trekking.

Damon’s professional associations include:
President of the International Society of Contact Lens Specialists
Practising Fellow of the Scleral Lens Education Society
Fellow of the Cornea & Contact Lens Society of Australia
Fellow of the American Academy of Optometry
Member of Optometry Australia
Member of the Orthokeratology Society of Australia
Member of Alcon Australia advisory panel