Whether it’s a serious crash or a life-saving transplant, flight nurses are critical members of the medical air transport team. Along with the pilot and the flight paramedic, they work in a highly dynamic environment to stabilize patients and make sure that they arrive ready for the critical care staff. They have to rely mostly on themselves to navigate the unexpected risks. Despite the challenges, the rewards make all worth it as your care is the essential link between life and death.
Compared to other nurses, flight nurses regularly receive good compensation packages, because it is a challenging profession with significant risk. However, the salary differences can be more pronounced, but it all depends on what you know and how you apply it.
For civilian flight nurses to work within a hospital or medical center setting, they need at least five years of critical care and trauma nursing experience, along with a degree to start. There are some opportunities to work with the government, and a good number of nurses work with private organizations. They mostly work within the United States, but with a private organization, there could be a chance for overseas deployment.
While all branches of the service have nursing staff in their ranks, the Air Force is the only branch that has a dedicated training school for flight nurses. From planning to deplaning, they ensure that injured personnel gets the highly trained prehospital care required. Unlike civilian flight nurses, Air Force candidates need just one year of critical care experience, a BSN, and a valid registered nurse license. Candidates must be between 18 and 47 years old and need to pass the medical, be accepted by the Surgeon General or the Chief Nurse, and then complete the five-and-a-half week training for commissioned officers.
With civilian transports, there is room for one patient, maybe two. A military medevac transports many more at one time and that’s why training critical care air transport teams (CCATT) takes place at the U.S. Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine. Those two-week courses mix classroom learning with intense hands-on experience. When dealing with a challenging environment, such as turbulence, which can create patient discomfort or dislodge medical lines or even extreme temperature swings, it helps to have that level of preparedness.
Salaries for military flight nurses depend on education upon joining, certifications, and rank. On the lower end, they make about $31 to $32 per hour, which comes to between $64,000 and $67,000 annually. However, there are reports that U.S. Air Force flight nurses make an average of $80,000 per year. At Andrews Air Force Base, for example, that range swings from $86,000 to $109,000 per year, so there seems to be a higher earning potential.
Beginning salary for civilian flight nurses depends on location as well as certification and level of experience. They work seven 12- or 18-hour shifts per month, but there are times when that could be extended to 24 hours and receive benefits that include, social security, pension, and disability. Along with a possible sign-on bonus, their total compensation package worth well over $100,000 per year.
By contrast, an active-duty military flight nurse works rotating day and night 8- or 12-hour shifts. Their base pay is more competitive base pay and includes tens of thousands of dollars in bonuses. These include hazard duty pay, which has a per diem rate of $150, and imminent danger pay of about $225 per day. In addition to this, there are other tangible benefits:
Apart from this, the Veteran’s Administration has additional benefits for veterans and their families and after retirement, many of these benefits are carried over and expanded.
In some of the more popular states for flight nurses, earnings vary by locality resulting in a big swing in the upper and lower salary caps.
When you look at how flight nurses are paid by state, there are 12 states to keep in mind. Hawaii is one of 12 states that’s going to see a sharp need in transit nurses due to its aging population, Other U.S. states in the south and west will also see this need for other reasons including motor vehicle and other injuries, including Florida, Arizona, Georgia, and Texas. Here is a look at the annual salary expectations for these states:
One of the smartest moves flight nurses can do is negotiate their salaries. Not doing so leaves a lot of money on the table and you’ll never be sure that you got the salary you deserve. For flight nurses, getting the best out of the negotiation starts with the interview. That is when you demonstrate your expertise.
Research the salary range you can expect based on your location, experience, and qualifications, and be prepared to discuss the reasons why you would be a valuable asset to the team. The best way to do this is to showcase how you were able to navigate some of the tougher scenarios of your career while keeping your ideal figure in mind.
There may be times when the base salary or benefits the employer offers won’t even satisfy your basic requirements. When you walk into that negotiation meeting, be prepared to walk away if the offer is not going to work for you. This is one of the trickiest parts of the process, because it requires the same kind of care and consideration you would give a patient. Practice your pitch, research the people you are going to be speaking with, and walk into that meeting fully prepared.
If you want to increase your earning potential, a BSN, Bachelor of Science in nursing along with your RN puts you in a better professional position. A BSN introduces leadership and a reality-based understanding of what it means to be a nursing professional.
While it is not required, with an MSN you become a nurse practitioner, which puts you in a better position to work in a clinical environment domestically or overseas. In dire situations where a patient’s life is at risk, having that MSN gives you the confidence to take the necessary decisions.
There are many traditional nursing programs available. An associate’s degree takes about two years, while a traditional BSN takes a total of four years for full-time students. Depending on the specialization, an MSN can take up to five years and can be pursued full or part-time. However, there are bridge programs available to speed up the transition.
The thing about bridge programs is that they save time and money. Traditional degree programs may not necessarily fit your scheduling and tend to be more costly. Asynchronous learning is an attractive benefit, allowing nurses to get their coursework done at their own pace. Bridge programs are also fast-paced and focus on new material instead of dwelling on what you already know. This way, you feel as if you are moving forward.
These types of programs must be accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) because some employers will require nurses to have degrees from accredited institutions.
In addition to education, the qualities and skills you possess have a significant impact on your salary. Combined with your certifications and experience, these characteristics will make you the ideal candidate for any flight nursing position. They include:
Because it is such a competitive profession, there are times when your skill-set will put you a cut above the competition and move you to the shortlist.
The average flight nurse’s salary is a little over $87,000 per year which works out to be about $42 per hour. Starting salaries professionals is between $68,000 and $69,000 annually. For states like California and Hawaii, nurses can expect an average salary of a little over $95,000 per year. In order to understand how these medical professionals can command such a competitive base pay rate, you need to understand what it is that they do during the course of a typical day.
During the first half of 2023, traffic fatalities rose from 1.1 per 100 million miles to 1.35. These types of crashes make up a significant number of air medical support trips making service vital. As an experienced nursing professional, your job is to provide the right kind of support including respiratory support to patients during the Journey. You’re constantly on-call, which means that the minute the alarm sounds you have to go. In some cases, your shift is non-stop and that means you have to be mentally, physically, and emotionally ready every time.
There are two types of calls nurses get, scene calls and interfacility transfers. Scene calls cover accident or crime scenes, while interfacility transfers are for medical, cardiac, and pediatric patient trauma cases.
During times when you have a lull in cases, teams typically practice scenarios. Continued education is a requirement in this profession and one of the best ways to get better at being a flight nurse is to take a look at past cases and see how things could have been done differently or better. Teams practice adjusting the treatments or the protocols for different variations of the same case to ensure they are ready for any case. To do this more effectively, they may enlist the help of an outside consultant to be an objective trainer for the team.
Another vital step in readiness is the kits. Every day team members ensure that their kits have all the equipment they leave. What alcohol happens, the last thing they need is to be out of a particular piece of equipment while dealing with a critical case. I don’t particularly busy day, they may even check kids a few times to make sure that they’re ready for the next case. As a key member of such a high-performance team, flight nurses have to be focused on the task at the moment, and that constantly practicing and staying sharp he’s a part of the job.
There are two types of flights. Rotor-wing is a helicopter and fixed-wing is a plane. Each has its advantages. Rotor-wings are more common during emergencies because patients need to be transported as quickly as possible over a short distance. They can land anywhere, making them great for the more impractical ground transport situation, but can be subject to turbulence. If the weather is too bad, rotor-wing transports are too risky. additionally, they are tight on space, which is why the flight crew needs to be more economical and efficient.
Fixed-wing crafts aren’t as flexible with their landing capabilities but they have a much longer flight range than helicopters. Their spaciousness leaves room for more life-supporting equipment and because they fly at higher altitudes, turbulence and tough weather aren’t much of an issue.
As with any profession, the more experience you have, the higher the pay potential. In some cases, flight nurses with a nice mix of expertise and experience can command well over $100,000 per year. This can be more if they work as consultants, helping teams become more efficient, or even as nurse educators. In order for nurses to really excel at their jobs, they need to pursue the necessary certifications first.
Working as a flight nurse, you will encounter many different patients. It’s a good idea to solidify your expertise with certifications. Not all of these are required, but there are a few which are considered essential cornerstones to the flight nursing practice.
In addition to all of this, you’ll have the opportunity to get HAZMAT, OSHA, and FEMA trainings which can help you to stay prepared for the more serious situations.
In addition to education, the qualities and skills you possess have a significant impact on your salary. Combined with your certifications and experience, these characteristics will you the ideal candidate for any flight nursing position. they include:
Because it is such a competitive profession, there are times when your skillset will put you a cut above the competition and move you to the shortlist.