How to Become a Flight Nurse

Are you looking for a career that’s both exciting and gratifying? If yes, then a career as a Flight Nurse might be a perfect fit. This article is going to cover the skills it takes to become a Flight Nurse and will also highlight the education and training required to find a job. The article will finish with some salary information regarding Flight Nurses, as well as some resources to explore the path further.

 

What Does a Flight Nurse Do?

A Flight Nurse is a Registered Nurse who is specifically trained in caring for patients during medical evacuation flights. They are trained on strategies in pre-hospital preparation and emergency field care for a wide spectrum of patient types. As the job title suggests, a Flight Nurse works on the crew of medical aircrafts, such as medical propeller planes and helicopters. This can be done for a private healthcare company or for the military.

Working as a Flight Nurse takes a wide breadth of medical knowledge and the ability to apply said knowledge in a high-pressure environment. Typical Flight Nurse responsibilities and duties include:

  • Medical tasks, such as assessing patient conditions and applying corresponding emergency care
  • Communicative tasks, such as extracting information from conscious patients and giving reports once the patient reaches his or her destination
  • Clerical tasks, such as recording patient information during intake and inputting said information into a database

Flight Nurse Skills

A Flight Nurse is essentially a Critical Care Nurse that works on medical flights instead of in an ER or ICU setting. This means the same set of soft skills apply to being a Successful Flight Nurse. The ability to work under the pressure of a fast-paced environment is crucial to succeed as a Flight Nurse. An inability to perform under pressure can lead to a mistake that can cost a patient his or her life. Given this pressure-packed environment, a Flight Nurse must be driven by an innate desire to help people. It is this desire that breeds the interpersonal skills Flight Nurses need provide the best care to patients whose lives hang in the balance.

Other key Flight Nurse Skills include:

  • Patient Assessment skills
  • Sound clinical judgment
  • Advanced field skills
  • Complex problem solving
  • Physical fitness
  • Resourcefulness

 

How Do You Become a Flight Nurse?

Education and Training

Given the rigorous work environment and critical status of the typical patient, becoming a Flight Nurse is not a job one can get right out of nursing school. In addition to becoming a Registered Nurse, one has to have three to five years of experience as a Critical Care Nurse before qualifying to be a Flight Nurse. One must also have one or more of the following certifications:

  • Certified Flight Registered Nurse (CFRN)
  • Certified Transport Registered Nurse (CTRN)
  • Certified Emergency Nurse (CEN)
  • Certified Critical Care Nurse (CCRN)

The first step in becoming a Flight Nurse is earning a Bachelor’s degree in nursing and passing the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN). Field hours are required to complete any nationally accredited nursing program. Those who want to be a Flight Nurse should make the most of these field hours by trying to get placed in the ER or ICU when possible. Once an aspiring Flight Nurse passes the NCLEX-RN, the next step is to get a job as a Critical Care Nurse. Most employers want an aspiring Flight Nurse to have at least three years, but preferably five years, of experience caring for critical patients before he or she is considered for employment. This is due to the critical condition of the patients who need to be airlifted.

Once you have a few years of experience under your belt, you may want to consider one of the aforementioned certifications to make yourself more marketable. These certifications are offered by the Board of Certification for Emergency Nursing. You can find out more about the CFRN exam here.

Finding a Job

Demand for Flight Nurses is on the rise. According to the National Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for Registered Nurses, which includes Flight Nurses, is set to increase 16% through 2024. This faster-than-average growth will amount to 439,300 new jobs over this time period. Many of these positions will be for Flight Nurse, given the specialized nature of the position.

Achieving your dream of providing critical care to patients while airborne starts with your resume. You want to highlight your critical care experience, as well as any professional certifications. To get your resume started, check out our library of Flight Nurse resume samples.

After your resume is complete, the next step in the job search is to search the web for job opportunities. Use the professional network you’ve established when gathering your Critical Care experience as a referral resource.

Your cover letter is the chance to express that you possess the soft skills required to be a top-notch Flight Nurse. Check out our Flight Nurse cover letter sample to get some ideas.

 

Insights from a Flight Nurse

We wanted to provide a clearer picture of life as a Flight Nurse, so we had a chat with Denise Baylous from the Nightingale Regional Air Ambulance, which is based out of Sentara Norfolk General Hospital. She has 16 years of Flight Nurse experience, including three-plus years of management experience. Let’s see what she had to say.

What should someone consider before becoming a Flight Nurse?

Flight nursing is a demanding job mentally and physically. A flight nurse must be confident in his or her nursing knowledge and abilities as well as be prepared to work with critically ill and injured patients in an austere environment. Most flight programs require that the registered nurse have a BSN, a minimum of 5 years of experience in critical care or emergency nursing, and variety of certifications such as CFRN, CTRN, CCRN, CEN, ACLS, PALS, TNCC, NRP, and EMT-B. Experience and certification in these specialized areas are required because the flight nurses must make complex clinical decisions with each mission. A complete understanding of flight physiology and advanced medical knowledge is vital to providing appropriate care in the air medical setting.

Flight nurses must also have a full understanding of aviation, local, state, and hospital guidelines, all of which guides proper care and transport of the patient. In this high-risk profession, teamwork and open communication play a vital role in safety. This open communication not only pertains to the flight team, but the fire, EMS and other hospital staff that the flight nurse interacts with on a daily basis.

What type of person excels in this job?

The type of person who excels as a flight nurse is one who is humble yet confident in his or her nursing skills and clinical judgment. The flight nurse cares for such a wide variety of patients, he or she must be willing to continually grow and advance their knowledge base and skill set. Flight nurses need to be good team players and communicators.

What are some of the most important skills for a Flight Nurse to have?

Because of the pressure and lack of resources that comes with caring for critically ill and injured patients in the transport environment, flight nurses must have sound judgment and be able to make quick decisions. To do this, they need to possess a strong knowledge of physiology, pharmacology and aviation. They must be proficient in advanced airway, central line management, critical medication administration and titration, pediatric, obstetric, neurological, cardiac and traumatic emergencies.

Although the above advanced skill sets are required for flight nurses, they also need to demonstrate the ability to deliver calm, compassionate care in any situation. They must be knowledgeable leaders and good role models for all nurses.  Excellent communication, teamwork and respect for your teammates, the patient and their families are critical to the success of the flight nurse.”

What do you find to be the most rewarding aspect of being a Flight Nurse?

What I find most rewarding about being a flight nurse is knowing that I make a difference in a person’s life while doing the job that I love.

 

How Much Do Flight Nurses Get Paid?

The following data from the National Bureau of Labor Statistics refers to Registered Nurses, which is the umbrella category that includes Flight Nurse. The median salary for a Registered Nurse is $67,500. Those in the bottom ten percent make $46,400, while those in the top ten percent earn $101,600.

Top Ten States for Registered Nurse Salary

Flight Nurses in the following states have the highest median salary:

  1. California: $100,400
  2. Hawaii: $92,300
  3. Alaska: $88,300
  4. Oregon: $85,200
  5. Massachusetts: $83,900
  6. Nevada: $81,400
  7. District of Columbia: $79,600
  8. New Jersey: $79,200
  9. New York: $78,000
  10. Washington: $77,000

 

Flight Nurse Resources

If you’re interested in exploring the Flight Nurse career path further, then check out the list of resources below.

On The Web

DonnaCardillo.com – Donna is an RN who doubles as a motivational keynote speaker. Dubbed “The Inspiration Nurse”, her blog is filled with great resources for aspiring nurses.

NursingShow.com – This is a blog on general Nursing topics that also has a corresponding podcast. You can subscribe to their podcast on iTunes and listen on your iPhone.

On LinkedIn

NCLEX Nursing Review Group – This group, which has nearly 20,000 members, focuses on discussing successful test-taking strategies for those preparing for their licensing exam.

Nursing Beyond the Bedside – This group is a gathering ground for nurses who don’t work in the typical clinical setting. At close to 25,000 members, there’s a good chance there are some Flight Nurses amongst their ranks.

Industry Groups

Board of Certification for Emergency Nursing – This is the administering organization for the Certified Flight Registered Nurse program. They have a bunch of resources on requirements and preparing for the CFRN examination.

National Council of State Boards of Nursing – This is the organization that administers the NCLEX. They have resources on licensing requirements, test preparation and professional development.

The information in this article comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, job postings and other online sources

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