Flight nurses, or transport nurses, are registered nurses (RNs) who are trained to provide comprehensive pre-hospital and emergency medical care to patients during aircraft transportation. Generally, flight nurses are a part of a medical flight team which is composed of physicians, medics, and other kinds of medical professionals. The primary job of the flight nurse is to keep patients stable until the helicopter or airplane arrives at the hospital or other healthcare facility. Flight nurses basically do everything that a trauma nurse would do in the ER or ICU. However, they carry out these difficult tasks in the confines of an aircraft with much fewer resources. They can be found employed in both civilian and military sectors.
There are essentially two kinds of flight nurses: civilian and military. Civilian flight nurses will usually be employed by hospitals, private medical transport companies, fire departments, the government, or other organizations that carry out search and rescue operations. Military flight nurses will be employed by one of the branches of the US Armed Services (i.e. Army, Army Reserves, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard).
Aspiring flight nurses must hold the right combination of education, nursing experience, and flight experience. Many flight nurses have a military background, though this is not always the case. Flight nurses must have excellent trauma and critical care skills, and be comfortable working in tight spaces and with limited resources. Meticulous record-keeping is also a necessity, as these nurses must brief the hospital or medical facility staff about the patient’s condition upon arrival.
Most potential employers of flight nurses require a 4-year BSN degree. Some employers may even want their flight nurses to have an MSN degree, although that is less common. In addition to a 4-year degree or advanced degree, flight nurses will need extensive experience in an ICU or critical care setting and a series of continuing education courses in flight nursing. Military nurses with flight nurse experience may be able to transfer over their skills into civilian flight nursing upon discharge.
These days, in the vast majority of cases, to become a flight nurse you will need a BSN degree. That means completing a 4-year university program and then passing the NCLEX-RN exam. Specialty certification and credentials may be necessary as well. Flight nurses should also have experience in trauma or emergency nursing, areas of career that also generally require a nurse to be a licensed RN.
Common credentials and/or certifications of a flight nurse include:
Additional certifications and training courses for flight nurses:
For more information on the certification process for Certified Flight Registered Nurses (CFRNs) through the Board of Certification for Emergency Nursing (BCEN), visit the BCEN website.
Because flight nurses are well educated, highly trained, and exceedingly skilled nursing professionals, most don't have any trouble finding gainful employment. Both public and private medical organizations and institutions commonly employ flight nurses.
According to PayScale, flight nurses make a median annual salary of around $69,000. However, precise figures will be highly dependent upon employment location, the flight nurse's experience, and the employing organization. The kind of benefits that flight nurses enjoy will also depend on who they are employed by. Those who are employed by the military or the state are likely to have more generous benefit packages. With that being said, most flight nurses who are employed full-time will be given comprehensive medical, dental, vision, and prescription insurance coverage. Additionally, the vast majority of flight nurses will also be given a few weeks of paid time-off each year.