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.
What Are Some Flight Nurse Duties?
Monitor the vital signs of the patient
Ensure patient safety and stability onboard the aircraft
Replace any lost blood via blood transfusion devices
Evaluate the severity of patients' ailments and provide them with appropriate care until the patient reaches the hospital
Act as a go-between and communicator between flight medical team and the flight crew
Administer first aid, medication, and IVs
Help patients get on and off the aircraft
Coordinate with flight medical team members
Make sure appropriate medical equipment and supplies are maintained onboard the aircraft at all times
Perform minor operating procedures when necessary
Arrange patient charts
Where Do Flight Nurses Work?
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).
How to Become a Flight Nurse
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.
Step 1: Educational Requirements
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.
Do Flight Nurses Need an RN Degree?
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.
Additional certifications and training courses for flight nurses:
Trauma Nurse Core Courses
Advanced Trauma Life Support
Advanced Trauma Care for Nurses
Transport Nurse Advanced Trauma Course
Commission on Accreditation of Medical Transport Systems
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.
Flight Nurse Jobs, Salary & Employment
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.
Job Description & Information
Essential Skills Needed - Ability to remain calm while working under intense pressure in confined spaces, strong leadership, advanced critical care knowledge, ability to think quickly and critically, detail-oriented, strong interpersonal and communication skills, compassion, knowledge of aviation, ability to work with diverse populations and physical stamina
Job Outlook - The United States Bureau of Labor and Statistics has reported that job growth for registered nurses is expected to rise by 16% between 2014 and 2024. It's reasonable to assume that job growth for Certified Flight Registered Nurses will be in-line with this figure.
What Is the Average Salary of a Flight Nurse?
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.