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How to Become a Flight Nurse

How to Become a Flight Nurse

If you’re looking for an exciting, yet rewarding, career in the medical field becoming a fight nurse may be the right choice. Not only do these medical professionals fly in a medic plane or helicopter nearly every day, but they oftentimes provide life-saving treatments to severely ill or injured patients.

The primary responsibility of a flight nurse is to transport patients from one location to another via a medical helicopter or plane. They’re often called in to help in emergency situations, such as a major accident or explosion, as well as transport patients from one hospital to another. Flight nurses, along with other members of the flight medical team, work to stabilize the patient and provide any type of required medical services.

If this sounds like a career option that might be right for you – keep reading. This guide will provide more information about what a flight nurse is and what steps you can take to become one.

Reasons to become a flight nurse

Flight nurses typically work in fast-paced environments. They collaborate with other flight members, such as a flight paramedic or surgeon as well as medical personnel on the ground to provide emergency medical services to patients facing severe illnesses or injuries, such as burns and traumatic brain injuries.

Oftentimes, the flight team provides emergency transport services from the scene of an accident to a nearby emergency room or urgent care center. They also transport patients needing a higher quality of care from one medical facility to another. For example, they may transport patients requiring an organ transport to the surgical hospital, or even transport the organs for the transport. Additionally, flight nurses may respond to natural disasters and other emergency situations.

While working as a fight medic can be quite stressful, it can also be very rewarding. These medical professionals have the opportunity to save the lives of their patients on a daily basis. This factor is just one of the great benefits of becoming a flight nurse. Here’s a look at some additional benefits of choosing this profession.

Excellent salaries

Flight nurses are among some of the highest-paid RNs in the medical field. Studies show that the average annual salary for a flight nurse is $81,093. However, actual salaries vary based on numerous factors. For example, entry-level flight nurses typically start at a lower salary than more experienced nurses, who can earn over $100,000 annually.

The location also plays a role in salaries. For example, flight nurses working in New York (the highest-paying state) earn an average annual salary of $96,578, which is $35,853 higher than the average wages for flight nurses in North Carolina (the lowest-paying state). To get a better understanding of how location affects salaries, here’s a look at the top 10 states with the highest flight nursing salaries compared to the 10 states with the lowest average salaries.

Average nurse flight salaries in the highest-paying states

  • New York $96,578
  • New Hampshire $93,784
  • Wyoming $86,081
  • West Virginia $83,907
  • Pennsylvania $83,501
  • Massachusetts $82,881
  • Montana $81,184
  • Hawaii $81,023
  • Arizona $80,349
  • Washington $79,834

Average nurse flight annual salaries in the lowest-paying states

  • Oklahoma $69,218
  • Idaho $67,877
  • Mississippi $67,839
  • Maine $67,606
  • Arkansas $66,814
  • Michigan $66,685
  • Illinois $66,451
  • Texas $65,519
  • Missouri $65,197
  • North Carolina $60,725

Salaries also vary from city to city within a state. Here’s a look at average annual wages in the cities with the highest flight nurse salaries.

  • San Jose, CA $98,371
  • Oakland, CA $97252
  • Tanana, AK $96,854
  • Wasilla, AK $96,852
  • Hayward, CA $85,216

It’s important to factor in the cost of living for a specific location when comparing costs.

Growing demand

The demand for workers in the medical field is expected to grow faster than the national average job growth of 4% over the next decade. For RNs as a whole, the job growth is expected to rise by 7% over the next ten years. Considering the level of training and experience required by flight nurses, the demand for this type of medical professional is likely to increase at a higher rate.

Workplace benefits

Flight nurses work for non-profit organizations, for-profit companies, governmental agencies and the military. Workplace benefits vary by employer, but here’s a look at some of the prime benefits you can expect to receive depending on where you work.

Private or public flight nurse

Those nurses working for a corporation or non-profit organization, such as a hospital, emergency room center, or a medical transport company, typically receive a wide range of benefits, including health care, sick and vacation pay, and continuing education training.

Military flight nurse

Flight nurses working in the military are eligible for the same level of benefits as all members of the US Armed Forces, such as vacation pay, housing and uniform allowance, health care, and retirements plans.

Civilian flight nurse

Those taking a flight RN position as a civilian with a governmental agency can also expect to receive numerous benefits, such as a pension, continuing health care, and paid time off.

Experience and training

Experience and training can also affect flight nurse’s salaries. Those who have completed nursing school and become a certified flight registered nurse typically earn more than those without this certification. Additionally, those who have experience working as an emergency nurse, trauma nurse, or ICU nurse can expect to earn more than those without this crucial experience.

What a flight nurse does?

A medical helicopter also referred to as an air ambulance, is used to handle emergency transport and aeromedical evacuation services. The flight crew on board, including the pilot and flight nurse, flight medic, and flight physician, must travel under all weather conditions, such as snow, ice, winds, and fog. They can be called in to transport victims of vehicle accidents, explosions, storms, shootings, natural disasters, and other emergencies.

Flight nurses tend to work 12-hours shifts or longer and may be required to be on-call 24/7 for several days in a row. Their specific duties vary greater from day-to-day. Some days may be spent cleaning, sterilizing, and maintaining the plane, while other days may include back-to-back transport jobs. They must have exceptional emergency nursing and critical care skills.

In many cases, medic helicopters and planes are forced to land in non-medical areas, such as ballfield, roadways, and parking lots. Due to these factors, the first thing these medical professionals must do is to assess the landing area. They must quickly identify any hazardous spots, such as ice walkways, loose gravel, and uneven ground, and develop a plan for safe transport.

Flight nursing professionals must also work with the ground crew to assess the patients’ injuries or illnesses, stabilize the patient as much as possible, and provide emergency care. In some instances, the flight team may be required to set up a triage station to determine which patients need transport first. In most cases, however, the ground medical team makes these determinations while the air ambulance is in flight.

Once the patient is ready for critical care transport, the flight team is responsible for safely moving the patient onto the plane or helicopter. During transport, flight nurses must handle all the patient care duties of a regular registered nurse, including:

  • Assist physician as necessary
  • Monitor patients’ vitals
  • Maintain and update patients’ charts
  • Collect patient history, if possible
  • Provide first aid as needed
  • Start intravenous (IV) line
  • Administer medication
  • Provide emergency nursing services as needed
  • Collaborate with all members of the flight team
  • Operate the two-way communication radio, if necessary

Since many patients requiring transport are facing serious, or even life-threatening, injuries or illnesses, flight nurses must also be able to provide critical care services during the flight, such as performing advanced resuscitation techniques like CPR as well as advance and cardiac life support.

The flight crew, including the flight nurse, is also responsible for taking care of the medic plane or helicopter. They may assist with duties, such as:

  • Washing the aircraft
  • Cleaning and maintaining on-flight medical equipment
  • Stocking on-flight supplies
  • Sterilizing the plane’s interior between flights

Many employers want their flight nurses to have experience not only flying on a plane but also have an understanding of basic flight techniques and terminology. Most employers will provide this type of training, if necessary, but having it prior to applying for a job can help you stand out from the competition.

Where do flight nurses work?

Flight nurses can work for the military, private companies, nonprofit organizations, or governmental agencies. Here’s a look at some of the types of employers that hire flight nurses.

  • Private and public hospitals
  • Emergency room centers
  • Medical transport companies
  • Search and rescue organizations
  • Fire departments
  • FEMA
  • Department of Homeland Security
  • US Armed Forces (all branches)

What is an entry-level salary for flight registered nurses?

The average flight nurse salary ranges from $64,000 to $99,000 annually. However, recent graduates seeking entry-level positions may earn slightly lower than $64,000. Your education, experience, and certification will likely play a role in how much you can expect to get paid. For example, flight nurses with nurse practitioner licensures are likely to earn more than licensed registered nurses.

Both military and civilian flight nurses can expect to earn more money as their level of experience and training increases. As an aspiring flight nurse, be sure to include all relevant skills and training in your resume. This step will not only improve your chances of getting the job you want, but it may also help you obtain a higher salary.

Skills a successful flight nurse has

Flight nursing is one of the most unique career options available. According to the Board of Certification for Emergency Nursing (BCEN), there are only 4,300 certified flight nurses in the country. Unfortunately, not everyone has the skills, personality, and ability to be a flight nurse. If you’re considering a career as a flight nurse, here’s a look at some of the must-have skills needed to be successful on the job.

Physical stamina

Transport nursing can be a very demanding career. These medical professionals often work 12-hour shifts, or longer, and may be required to be on call 24/7 several days a week. They spend the majority of the day on their feet lifting patients in and out of the plane. They often have to remain standing during flight in order to provide medical treatment to patients.

Additionally, air ambulances are sometimes forced to land in non-traditional settings, such as fields and parking lots with uneven ground, loose gravel, and other hazards.

Flight nurses must have the physical ability and stamina to handle all these aspects of the job. If you’re considering a job as a flight nurse, you may want to consider working with a personal trainer to improve your physical abilities and build up your stamina.

Extensive flight experience

Flight nurses must have extensive flight experience, not only on commercial airplanes but on smaller planes and helicopters as well. Since, the flight medic team is required to provide medical treatment during flight if necessary, it’s imperative that they be comfortable with all aspects of flying, including turbulence and changes in elevation.

Aspiring flight nurses should work towards gaining this experience while completing their degrees. There are plenty of private companies offering plane and helicopter rides to help students obtain this experience. You may even want to consider taking to flight program to enhance your flight nurse resume.

Ability to remain calm

The workplace environment for flight nurses can be quite chaotic. Not only are they forced to treat patients thousands of feet in the air, but they must also work in a confined space and with limited resources. In addition to treating patients, transport nurses must communicate with on-the-ground medical professionals at both the pick-up and drop-off locations.

Furthermore, the landing site, itself may be very chaotic before the arrival of the air ambulance. For example, scenarios, such as a shooting, explosion, or natural disaster often create a chaotic scene and ++the flight team must be able to quickly navigate through this chaos to safely transport the patient or patients.  

Flight nurses must have the unique ability to remain calm despite the chaotic nature of the workplace environment. This is just one of the reasons why it’s so important to gain some experience in an emergency room or critical care unit before obtaining a flight nurse certification.

Communication

A flight medic must have excellent written and oral communication skills. First, he must be able to quickly and efficiently communicate with other members of the flight team, including the pilot and flight physician, as well as the medical teams on the ground. Secondly, a flight nurse must be able to calmly communicate with the patients, when possible. Thirdly, he must be able to accurately update and maintain patient records on a continuous basis.  

Students should take a series of English composition, speech, and other communication courses during their undergraduate studies. This extra training at the undergraduate level can greatly enhance a person’s communication skills and improve their on-the-job performance.

Emotional stability

Flight nursing can also be an emotionally draining profession. While, in some cases, they are able to provide life-saving treatment, sometimes the patients don’t make it despite the flight crew’s best efforts. If you’re considering this type of career, you must be prepared for the fact that some patients will die during or after transport.

It’s vital that you are emotionally stable before applying for a flight nurse position. It’s also a good idea to have a plan in place to deal with the pressures of the job, such as meeting with a professional counselor. This step can keep you emotionally healthy despite the demands of the job.

Organization

As a registered nurse who works on an air ambulance, it’s also necessary to have strong organizational skills. He also works in very small quarters and must an adequate supply of all necessary tools and equipment. On top of that, a transport nurse must ensure the area, as well as all tools and equipment remain secure and sterilized.

To meet this demand, a flight nurse must have a high level of organizational skills. Ultimately, a flight nurse must not only keep the medic plane always stocked, but he must also know exactly where everything is, even under chaotic situations.   

Critical thinking skills

Unlike an ER setting that has numerous staff members available to assist with emergency situations, a flight crew can only rely on the fellow team members, such as a flight nurse, flight paramedic, and flight physician. Due to this factor, flight nurses must have the ability to think on their own and make split-second decisions as to the care of the patient. These medical professionals must have excellent critical thinking and leadership skills to succeed on the job.

Empathy

Being a nurse of any type requires a certain level of empathy. You must have some compassion for your patients and be willing to treat your patients without any type of judgement or prejudice. Not only will empathy help to comfort your patients, but it can also help to build a level of trust with them and their family members.

Flight nurse resume

When creating your flight nursing resume, be sure to include all your relevant skills, training, and awards. For example, if you are work experience in a critical care unit, you can use this to demonstrate your communication, leadership, and critical thinking skills, as well as your ability work well under pressure.

However, don’t forget to mention other skills and abilities you have. For example, if you won a recent marathon, you could include this in your resume to exhibit your physical abilities. Also, include any flight experience you have, even if it’s not medical-related, because the more comfortable you are in a plane the more hirable you are.

Education requirements for fight nurse

The first step to becoming a flight nurse is to earn an undergraduate degree in nursing. There are two undergraduate degree options available, including:

Associate’s degree

Associate’s degree programs in nursing are typically available at community colleges, but some traditional colleges and universities also offer these nursing programs. It typically takes about two years of full-time studies to complete an associate’s degree program. Students in this type of program can expect to take a variety of general education classes, such as English and speech along with science-based courses, including biology, psychology, nutrition, and anatomy.

Students obtaining an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or an Associate of Science in Nursing (ASN) degree from an accredited college or university can become a licensed registered nurse. This licensure technically qualifies stent to become a flight nurse, but it’s important to note that mane employer prefer candidates with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree. If you start with an AND or ASN degree, you can later enroll in an RN-to-BSN to improve your job opportunities as a flight nurse.

Bachelor’s degree

Most students interested in becoming nurses, begin their educational track by earning a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree. A bachelor-level program takes an average of our years of full-time studies to complete. this type of undergraduate program includes a combination of general education classes and nursing-specific course.

Many colleges and universities require students at the bachelor’s level to obtain hands-on clinical experience through an internship program at a local medical facility. Students interested in becoming a flight nurses should look for internship opportunities in critical care, intensive care, of emergency room units. This experience at the undergraduate level can enhance your career option after graduation.

Obtain an RN license

Once you obtain your undergraduate nursing degree from an accredited college or university, you can take steps towards becoming a licensed registered nurse. To earn an RN license, you must also meet all state licensing requirements and successfully pass the National Council Licensing Exam (NCLEX-RN) exam administered by the National Council of State Board of Nursing (NCSBN). The NCLEX-RN exam consists of a series of multiple-choice, fill-in-the-blank, multiple answers, and charts questions and covers four primary topics, including:

  • Safe and effective nursing care environment
  • Health promotion and maintenance
  • Psychosocial integrity
  • Physiologic integrity

Gain work experience

Before you can obtain a certification as a flight nurse, you must first acquire at least two to five years of relevant work experience, such as emergency room or critical care experience. Consider finding a job as a trauma, emergency room, or critical care nurse. While work experience is not required to sit for the CFRN national exam, many state licensing boards require the completion of a set number of clinical hours. During this period, it’s also recommended to earn various professional nursing certificates and certifications, such as:

  • Certified Emergency Nurse (CEN)
  • Critical Care Registered Nurse (CCRN)
  • Basic Life Support (BLS)
  • Pediatric Advanced Life Support (PALS)
  • Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS)
  • Transport Professional Advance Trauma Course (TPATC)

While these certificates and certifications are not necessarily required to become certified, have these extra credentials will look good on your flight nurse resume. In fact, many employers require their flight nurses to have BLS, PALS, and ACLS certificates. Additionally, these added skills will improve your on-the-job performance and allow you to provide exceptional patient care.

Become a Certified Flight Registered Nurse (CFRN)

Flight nurse certification is regulated by the Board of Certification for Emergency Nursing (BCEN). The first step to becoming certified is to take the CFRN exam, which consists of 150 questions covering topics, such as:

  • General principles of transport nursing practices
  • Trauma
  • Resuscitation practices
  • Medical emergencies
  • Special populations

After passing this exam, completing clinical requirements, and meeting all state licensing requirements, you can apply for your CFRN certification. Once you’re certified, you may want to consider joining the Air and Surface Transport Nurse Association. This membership can provide great networking opportunities and keep you up to date on the latest medical studies and techniques relevant to flight nurses.

Find a flight nurse job

Once you’ve secured your flight nurse certification, you can start applying for flight nurse jobs at hospitals, life flight transport companies, fire departments, or governmental agencies. Depending on your specific location, you might need to consider a long commute or be willing to move if necessary. Be sure to prepare a comprehensive resume that includes all your relevant skills, training, experience, and credentials.

While the median flight nurse salary is $81,093, entry-level wages are substantially lower. So, be prepared to accept a lower-paying position with the knowledge that you can build up your earnings potential and your gain more experience in the field.

Continuing education

Fight nurses hoping to maintain an active CFRN license must commit to completing a number of continuing education courses. While the exact amount of continuing education classes required varies from state to state, most locations require the completion of 100 hours of continuing education classes every four years. The purpose of this extra training it to ensure you stay up to date on the latest medical equipment, terminology, and treatments.  

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Degree Finder
RNtoBSNProgram.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.