How to Become a Flight Nurse

Flight nurses are an essential part of the medical field.

They’re responsible for providing medical care to patients outside of the hospital setting.

Flight nurses deliver pre-hospital medical attention to those suffering from severe injury and illness.

As a result, they’re a form of medical life support for patients that may not survive without immediate medical care.

Working as a flight nurse can be a gratifying career for critical care nurses that love excitement, variety, and helping others.

However, becoming a flight nurse takes time, focus, education, training, and effort. Flight nurses must be highly educated, capable of critical thinking and fast decision-making, and physically suited for the job.

There’s an educational route you can take to earn your wings for those interested in flight nursing.

Although there’s no shortcut to entering the field, these steps provide a solid foundation for becoming a flight nurse.

The first half focuses on college education, and the second half centers on training and certification.

Those already working as registered nurses skip on to step 5.

1. Apply To a College With An Accredited Nursing Program

The journey to becoming a licensed registered nurse begins with going to an accredited college.

First and foremost, those interested in a flight nurse career must earn their GED or diploma.

Although many fields require a degree, this is especially important for those entering the nursing field.

In fact, Before taking the nursing program, you’ll have to show the college proof of your education.

For those with a GED, the college may require a placement test determining the courses you need to take when starting.

The placement test aims to identify weak areas that need improvement for your educational foundation.

Once you’ve gained acceptance into a college with an accredited nursing program, it’s time to take the next step.

2. Take the Necessary Nursing School Prerequisites

Before gaining acceptance into an accredited nursing program, students must take the necessary prerequisite courses.

Every college’s nursing program has prerequisite courses to provide a foundation of education for the program.

Ultimately, these courses allow students to understand the basics of English math, science, biology, and psychology.

You’ll want to keep your GPA average as high as possible while taking your prerequisite courses.

Essentially, the higher your GPA, the better your chances of getting accepted into the RN program.

Students who struggle to get good grades have retaken prerequisite courses to improve their GPA to get into the nursing program.

If you plan on transferring colleges to enter the nursing program, make sure your prerequisite classes and credits transfer.

Also, consider the college’s cost and competition level.

This provides the best possibility of getting accepted into the nursing program.

Prerequisites Commonly Required By Colleges

  • English 101
  • Anatomy & Physiology I & II
  • Intro to Psychology or Psychology 101
  • Intro to Sociology or Sociology 101

Colleges may also require/substitute the following courses as prerequisites for the nursing program:

  • English Composition I & II
  • Microbiology
  • General Psychology
  • Developmental Psychology
  • Introduction to Sociology
  • Fundamentals of speech

With that said, not all nursing programs will require students to take every prerequisite.

Consult your college admissions counselor to determine which courses you need to take before entering the program.

You can also speak with a teacher or the head of the nursing program for information regarding prerequisites.

3. Get Accepted into the RN Program

Once you’ve completed the prerequisites, it’s time to apply for the nursing program.

Importantly, you want to apply for the program at several colleges to maximize your chances of attending nursing school.

Also, apply to programs where you meet their educational requirements.

For example, if you have a 3.0 GPA, you may want to avoid nursing programs that require a minimum 3.5 GPA or above.

Ultimately this will save you a lot of time and money.

While applying for the RN program, study for the nursing entrance exam.

Resources such as HESI Exam books or Kaplan Admissions test books provide students with invaluable study material.

This is crucial to getting into the program and must not be overlooked.

Lastly, some colleges allow students to write personal statements about why they want to join the nursing program.

In that case, you’ll want to take the time to write a thorough statement.

Also, consider having a teacher and counselor review it before submitting it.

The personal statement can help the college select a nursing student in cases where two students score similarly.

4. Complete The RN Program and NCLEX Exam

While going through the nursing program, focus on maximizing your education.

Additionally, consider any nursing student jobs offered by a hospital, such as working as a monitor technician.

You’ll get to work in an emergency department if you’re lucky.

This will build up your experience and make it easier to find work after college.

You’ll need to pass the national licensing exam to become a qualified registered nurse at the end of the program.

Although you’ve completed the RN program, the NCLEX exam is essential for becoming licensed.

With that said, some places allow students to work as nurse graduates before passing their NCLEX. 

In this case, the company provides temporary work based on the condition of the NCLEX being passed within a specific timeframe.

Furthermore, students will be supervised and may have limited roles since they are not officially licensed registered nurses.

5. Gain Experience as A Registered Nurse

Next, you need to find a nursing job at a hospital.

Those that have taken work during college in an emergency setting may jump directly into the emergency department.

However, if you lack experience, you can work in general nursing and later move into an emergency department.

With that said, not everyone that works in the emergency department as a nursing student will go directly into emergency care.

Whether a hospital offers such a position depends on the nurse’s experience, education, competition (i.e., other qualified RNs), and other factors.

Most flight nurse jobs require registered nurses to have at least 3 – 5 years of experience in a critical care setting.

Therefore, it is essential to transition into critical care as soon as possible.

6. Obtain The Required Certifications

While working as a registered nurse, you must take continuing education courses and certification programs.

These are essential to understand the latest medical practices and healthcare information.

As the healthcare system develops new knowledge, research, and practices, nurses must understand and properly utilize them.

It’s highly beneficial for those entering the flight nursing field to become certified in critical care topics.

After all, flight nurses care for patients in critical condition and require sufficient emergency care education.

Required Certifications May Include:

Hazardous Material Training:

  • HazMat
  • NIMS Training IS 100, 200, 700, 800

The certification requirements may vary depending on the hospital you work at/apply to.

Therefore, it is essential to contact a professional flight nurse, recruitment agency, hospital, and healthcare company to understand their requirements.

The more education and certifications you acquire as a registered nurse, the better.

If the hospital offers critical care certification courses necessary to become a flight nurse, take them as soon as possible.

Not only will it look good on your resume, but it also provides the skills needed to operate in extreme and unpredictable situations.

7. Develop Leadership Skills

In addition to obtaining the necessary training and certifications to become a flight nurse, you must be an effective leader.

Those with practical leadership skills develop excellent communication and work effectively with their flight crew and medical team.

Flight nurses are responsible for planning and preparing for missions and ensuring patient care and safety.

The requirements may change from one hospital/healthcare facility to another.

Therefore, you must check with your employer to determine the requirements for a flight nurse position.

8) Take Flight Nurse Certification

Beyond education courses and certification programs, you may want to get flight nurse certified (CFRN).

Although this is optional (depending on the hospital), you’ll stand a better chance of getting hired as a flight nurse.

Flight nurse certification (CFRN) shows that you are qualified to work in the flight nursing field.

Furthermore, it informs employers that you have acquired the education and training necessary to perform your duties effectively and efficiently.

Beyond providing evidence of your training, flight nurse certification (CFRN) makes the interview process more accessible as you’ll be better prepared.

Finally, those certified as flight nurses can request higher pay than their non-certified counterparts.

Moreover, some hospitals may require flight nurse certification (CFRN) before accepting applications.

9. Apply For A Flight Nursing Position

Once you’ve acquired enough experience, certifications, and training in critical care, you can apply for a flight nursing position.

However, this doesn’t guarantee you a job.

Competition, personality/attitude, social skills, and physical requirements will impact your odds of getting hired.

To prepare for your interview(s), consider utilizing online resources.

Numerous websites provide interview questions and answers for potential flight nurses.

Furthermore, consult an experienced flight nurse and staff to help you prepare.

If you’re hospital offers interview preparations, it’s a good idea to utilize these resources.

It’s also why I previously mentioned obtaining flight nurse certification.

Beyond displaying critical care experience, interviews can be challenging in other areas.

To illustrate, the interviewer can require you to explain how you handle confrontation and disagreements with fellow team members.

For instance, how would you handle a situation where you disagree with a medical treatment proposed by another team member?

Although these questions are tough, they provide deep insights into how you would prepare for and handle emergencies.

Therefore, you must train for these questions and situations like an exam.

After all, working as a flight nurse requires excellent assessment skills, leadership, and critical thinking.

Make Sure You Meet The Physical Requirements

Lastly, flight nurses must meet the physical requirements even if they satisfy all of the previous obligations.

This includes height and weight limits, depending on the healthcare facility.

You’ll operate from a helicopter as a flight nurse, and there is limited space.

Therefore, you must follow specific guidelines to operate effectively and not compromise the mission.

This means that height, weight, and physical strength play a significant role in operating effectively.

For instance, flight nurses that are too tall or weigh more than is safe for daily operation may have difficulty getting hired.

Although this is an unfortunate circumstance, it is in place to prevent accidents from occurring.

This article on the physical requirements of flight nursing provides valuable information on the position’s limitations and requirements.

Conclusion

Flight nurses provide in-flight management and medical care and play a critical role in a patient’s well-being.

These healthcare professionals are on duty from their first contact until they reach the hospital.

To become a flight nurse, you must gain several years of experience as a registered nurse in critical care.

Due to flight nursing demands, most jobs require a minimum of a bachelor’s degree and at least three years of experience (although five years is preferred).

Flight nurses must become certified in several areas and hold the proper certifications.

Furthermore, they must have extensive expertise in hemodynamic support, vasoactive medications, mechanical ventilation, and various other intensive/critical care skills.

Because flight nursing jobs require a lot of physical and mental demands, some jobs ask applicants to participate in a series of physiological tests to ensure that they are a proper fit for the positions.

With that said, flight nursing is an enriching career for those who love the challenge, variety, and high-adrenaline work.

Working outdoors, facing unique challenges, and constantly thinking on their feet gives nurses a rare experience among healthcare professionals.

The book Trauma Junkie: Memoirs of an Emergency Flight nurse offers a fantastic deep dive into what it’s like to work in the flight nursing profession.

Additional Resources: