A career as a flight nurse is challenging, exciting and different according to Air & Surface Transport Nurses Association. And as one of the most highly trained critical nursing jobs around, it is not just for thrill-seekers and adrenaline junkies.
But try telling that to flight nurses. One day they’re medi-vacing an injured climber off the side of a mountain.
The next wading through icy water to help a bush walker who’s life is in serious danger. Or providing emergency aid to burn victims after a multi-vehicle pile-up on a busy city highway. The days are as varied as the emergency care they provide is different.
As a flight nurse, you’re trained to deal with all these situations. You’re an essential part of an emergency critical care team specializing in evacuations and rescue operations on a helicopter, plane or even a jet airliner.
Flights nurses are trained to handle all types of trauma cases. They work very closely with respiratory practitioners and flight physicians. Pediatric and neonatal flight transport teams are particularly common.
Flight nurses routinely deal with all types of life-and-death situations. Essentially your job is to keep your critically injured or extremely sick patient alive while they are being transported by air to a hospital ICU or ED unit for life-saving emergency care.
A Flight Nurse Must Be Highly Experienced In Emergency Care
To become a flight nurse you must first become a highly trained registered nurse (RN), usually with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing Degree (BSN). You’ll then need at least two to five years experience working in trauma or emergency nursing in a CCU, ICU or ER unit.
Because the patients you’ll be treating can be any age and suffering from every conceivable medical condition, you need to be knowledgeable about all types of medical conditions and diseases. This experience is best obtained in a Level 1 trauma center although you will learn a lot simply doing the job.
Many flight nurses also study for specialized certification and commonly become a certified flight registered nurse or certified emergency nurse. Emergency medical technician training, BTLS, NRP, ACLS or PALS certification is also hugely beneficial if you are considering a career as a flight nurse.
A Flight Nurse Must Be Emotionally Stable And Physically Fit
Some facilities also require flight nurses to be fully trained as an emergency medical technician or a paramedic too. But the training does not end there.
Because of the extreme nature of the emergency medical care in all types of environments, flight nurses also need experience in intubation, needle chest thoracentesis, pericardiocentesis and intraosseous needle placement too.
Additionally, you need to be in good health and fit as the job is both emotionally intense and physically demanding. If you think you can cope with obtaining these critical care qualifications, there are a few nursing schools in the United States that offer specialized flight nursing or transport nursing training.
Entry requirements generally include at least two years of critical care experience. When you are looking for an accredited flight nursing school or program you need to make sure that it includes basic trauma life support training, trauma nursing, critical incident stress debriefing, basic and advanced cardiac life support and a course in intensive care.
In addition, it’s a good idea to take the air-medical crew national standard curriculum. This will help prepare you for one of the most critical requirements of flight nursing – the ability to think quickly, solve problems on the spot and be resourceful.
As a flight nurse, you will be thrown into many unfamiliar situations in unfamiliar and often dangerous terrain. If you do not have the training to adapt quickly to the most demanding situations your patient’s life could be in more serious danger. Critically, so could your own.
Good people skills are crucial too. You are usually always dealing with severely traumatized patients and extremely worried families. You must have the ability to be calm and composed so that you can explain the situation to a variety of people, including other RNs in ICU units, emergency care physicians and eventually the patients and their families themselves.
Flight nurses often end up working in all difficult types of medical care facilities. Civilian flight nurses are often employed by large hospitals or state governments. Others are employed by fire departments and in the private sector by high-paying medical evacuation organizations.
The US military also trains and employs many emergency care flight nurses. They are usually trained to work as part of an air evacuation team to save the lives of soldiers in war zones like Afghanistan and, for many years, Iraq. The work there is intense, traumatic and dangerous.
As a military flight nurse you will be trained to become one of the most highly qualified emergency care nurses in the world. This is reflected in your pay too where it is quite common to earn over $120,000 a year depending on your years of military service and the pay grade.
Additionally, military flight nurses receive a housing allowance between $600 to $2500 a year. You flight nursing salary can also be boosted by a family separation allowance, hazardous duty pay, overseas allowance and other specialty pay.
Regular flight nursing salaries are around $66,200 a year depending on experience and where you are employed. A flight nursing salary is usually the same as a critical care, trauma or ER nurse in a hospital.
You can earn significantly more as a flight nurse for a private company or even an airline. Your job is usually to help transport critically ill patients from one city to another and the pay can be a lot higher than working for a hospital.
However, the downside to this type of flight nurse care is that is is usually not as exciting or varied as a emergency flight care nurse for a hospital. There are a part of a vital critical care team that faces a different emergency situation everyday.
The adrenaline rush is one of the biggest bonuses of becoming an emergency care flight nurse and no amount of money in the world can beat that thrill.