Working as a flight nurse can be an amazing and exciting experience for individuals interested in working in the medical field, however understanding exactly what a flight nurse does, what they are responsible for, why they are important and the process needed to become one can seem overwhelming to someone just starting out in nursing.
To better assist you in learning and understanding about the field of flight nursing and to help you answer some of those pressing questions you may be thinking about we have put together a list of some of the most frequently asked questions people want to know about what it means to be a flight nurse.
Below you can find a list containing several of the most commonly asked questions by students and those who are interested in working as flight nurses.
What is a flight nurse?
Flight nurses are previously trained registered nurses that have been highly educated in emergency medical care.
These nurses are in charge of taking care of patients that are being transferred to the hospital by winged or propeller aircraft.
Flight nurses may be used during rescue operations when a medical ground unit such as an ambulance is unable to reach a patient that needs emergency care within a certain amount of time.
This can be due to long distances or when an obstruction (such as traffic) may block a ground units ability to reach the patient.
The specialized nurses may also be required in instances where terrain or weather may interfere with an ambulance or medical ground unit’s ability to reach a patient that requires immediate care.
Some examples of bad terrain and/or weather include earthquakes, icy roads, mountainous terrain, flooded areas and traffic jams.
What makes a flight nurse different than a regular nurse?
When it comes to the field of nursing there are a number of different areas nurses can work in, so to keep this simple we’ll compare the differences between a flight nurse and a hospital registered nurse.
Registered nurses are responsible for providing medical care to patients, informing them of any medical conditions they may have, giving them information and health care advice designed to improve their health so they can lead a more active lifestyle, working with doctors and other health care professionals, keeping medical records and providing medical care to patients suffering from illnesses or ailments.
Flight nurses are highly trained registered nurses who have spent several years (at least 3-5) working in an emergency care setting and have taken specialized training, education courses and certifications related to critical care and aero-medical evacuations.
In additional to performing all of the same functions registered nurses are required to flight nurses have been specially trained to deal with patients who are suffering from traumas and/or emergency situations and are often required to work with a small medical team on board an aircraft instead of in a hospital with a large staff.
While not always the case registered nurses typically work in a hospital or health care setting which is surrounded by doctors and other medical health care professionals who can step in if a patient needs additional assistance or treatment.
Flight nurses don’t have that option and must be able to operate outside of the hospital and be able to make effective decisions quickly if they are to insure the safety and survival of their patients.
They have to rely on their small medical team for everything from ensuring the proper operation of on board medical equipment to the handling and care of the patients while in flight.
Flight nurses play a central role in providing their patients with proper medical care and in some cases flight nurses are the ones in charge of leading the medical team in the handling, diagnosis and treatment of their patients.
They are also responsible for communicating and coordinating information with the medical team and flight crew, and the planning and preparation of aero-medical evacuation missions to expedite the process and ensure proper procedures are being taken.
While both positions require a high level of education and commitment flight nurses are often required to work in emergency situations with a small staff while on board an aircraft and away from a hospital setting with only his/her medical team to supervise the condition of their patients and ensure the safety of everyone on board.
What responsibilities do flight nurses have?
Flight nurses facilitate patient care in emergency situations and insure the safety of their patients while they’re being transferred to a hospital or health care facility via aircraft.
Flight nurses will monitor their on board patients on board and their vital signs to ensure that the patient is in steady condition, Use intravenous therapy (IV’s) to keep patients hydrated and stable, dress their patients wounds, apply any necessary splints to broken or fractured bones, apply appropriate medications based on the patients needs, evaluate and use medical supplies and equipment based on their patients medical needs and provide emergency medical treatment such as minor surgeries (if absolutely necessary) to patients if a flight physician is unavailable at the time of the emergency.
Where do flight nurses operate?
Flight nurses work on a variety of different aircraft which can include winged aircraft, jets & helicopters.
The types of aircraft a flight nurses operates on often depends on the environment and situation the flight nurse is faced with.
Winged aircraft and jets are often used to transport a patient from one medical facility to another when time is an extremely important factor.
Helicopters are used in areas where ground transportation may have trouble gaining access to a patient in need of medical attention such as on mountainous terrain, at the scene of a large car accident, in areas where earthquakes are common and in locations that are largely covered by ice.
Helicopters are also used to pick up patients in areas that winged aircraft and/or ground units are unable to land or travel to.
Who employs flight nurses?
RN’s who work in flight nursing generally act as one of two types of flight nurses.
Each of the two types flying nurses are responsible for providing the same medical treatments to injured or sick patients, however they work on different types of environments distinctively different tasks.
Civilian flight nurses
Civilian flight nurses provide care to civilian patients living within a country such as the United States.
These nurses can be found working at state hospitals, local government facilities, nearby fire departments, health care organizations and a variety of organizations operating within the private healthcare sector.
Military flight nurses
Military flight nurses work as part of the United States Military and provide medical treatment to military and/or non military personnel on mission that may involve extracting patients from sometimes hostile environments.
In addition to providing patients with in flight medical treatment military flight nurses may also be responsible for providing other military personal with regular check ups to ensure that they are able to perform at their highest level and aren’t suffering from any limiting ailments.
What hours do flight nurses work?
The amount of hours a flying nurse works on a monthly basis is dependant on several varying factors.
Who the flight nurse works for and demands of that employer based on the areas medical needs may have a major impact on how many hours a flight nurse will work during a typical month.
Staff size (to cover necessary flight nursing positions) and the number of emergency calls that occur on a daily basis may also influence a flight nurse work schedule.
Many organizations have been known to schedule flight nurses for 2 – 4 (24 hour) shifts per week.
Depending on the organization a flight nurse works for some organizations may work on an on call basis where a flight nurse remains on call for a certain number of days per week.
Flight nurses may also be paid on an hourly, per call and/or per diem basis.
How much do flight nurses earn?
The average amount of money a flight nurse is able to make in a given year depends on the location they work in, the overall areas demand for flight nurses, the flight nurses overall level of experience and arrangements made between them and their employer.
One of the biggest factors that can affect a flight nurses annual pay depends on where they work.
For example a flight nurses that operates in Mississippi, Jackson for may make an average of 57,000, while flight nurse operating in New York, New York make an annual income of $80,000.
The amount of hours a flight nurses spends working on active duty missions vs. being on call (being paid non active per diem pay) can also play a huge factor in the flight nurses salary.
When flight nurses are on active duty they can make between $25 – $75 an hour, however their pay will go down significantly when are not on an assignment.
In these cases flight nurses may only obtain 1/3 of their active duty pay or less in per diem hourly pay.
It is also important to understand that while flight nurses who work in larger cities may tend to make higher wages than those working in smaller cities or rural areas those who make more money in the larger cities are generally exposed to a higher cost of living which in some cases may eliminate any benefits that a higher salary would normally offer, especially when it comes to housing costs, rent, taxes and other cost of living expenses.
Salary est. 11/12
For more information check out: Flight nurse salary
How do you start a career as a flight nurse?
Those who are interested in beginning a career as a flight nurse must start off earning experience as a registered nurse and acquire the skills necessary to work on the flight nursing profession.
Below is a 10 step guide to help you understand what it takes to become a flight nurse and how to get there.
1) You have to obtain a high school diploma or GED.
2) The next step is to apply to a nursing college or university that offers a four-year BSN degree.
3) All qualified nursing programs require students to take a number of necessary prerequisites before they can gain acceptance into the nursing program, so take the prerequisites and maintain the GPA requirements of the school you are attending.
You should also consult the teachers in the program or a counselor to gain an understanding of what you have to do in order to have the best chance earning a spot in the program.
4) Apply for the nursing program and gain acceptance.
5) Complete the four-year nursing program and pass the NCLEX-RN to earn your RN license.
6) Begin working as a registered nurse and gain acceptance into an emergency care department where you can work in a critical care setting and gain as much experience as possible.
It is likely that you may be required to work in a general care nursing position first to gain experience some vital experience before being able to operate in the critical care field, but if possible look for opportunities early on so that you can begin to acquire experience in emergency care.
7) Take all of the required CEU’s (continuing education units) and certifications classes related to the critical care and flight nursing fields.
To see which certifications are necessary ask a local flight nursing organization what they require before hiring a potential flight nurse.
Here is a list of some of the flight nursing certifications you may need to obtain before being able to apply for a position as a flight nurse: Flight Nurse Training and Certification.
8) Continue gaining experience in the critical care field until you’ve acquired sufficient training.
Most companies that hire flight nurses want RN’s that have acquired 3 – 5 years of experience in emergency care before hiring an RN for a position in the flight nursing division.
9) Get certified as a flight nurse.
While this may be optional in some flight nursing jobs getting flight nurse certified may give you a big advantage over someone who is applying for a flight nursing job without flight nursing certification.
10) Apply for a flight nursing position and keep developing your skills until you get hired.
This isn’t to say that you’re in the clear once you become a flight nurse as you’ll still need to develop your skills over the years, but the more training you can acquire early on the better.