Flight nurses are RNs who are specially trained to provide medical care to critical patients as they transport them via helicopter or aircraft to a hospital or medical center that is best equipped to care for their specialized needs. A flight nurse, also known as a transport nurse, works as part of a team that may include flight physicians, medics, and other medical providers. Flight nurses work in both civilian and military environments.
If you enjoy nursing and helping others, work well under pressure, and can work closely with others in a dynamic environment, a career as a flight nurse may be a great fit. These steps can help you start on your path to an exciting new career:
- Understand what a flight nurse does
- Earn a degree in nursing
- Become a registered nurse (RN)
- Gain nursing experience
- Start your career as a flight nurse
1. Know the role: what does a flight nurse do?
Flight nurses treat critically injured or ill patients in an unstable environment. Often, a flight nurse’s patients have undergone severe trauma that requires fast transport from an accident scene to a medical facility, or quick transport from one medical center to another.
During transport, flight nurses stabilize patients as much as possible, administer emergency care, and prepare patients for treatment. Basic duties include starting IVs, providing medication, and performing advanced resuscitation techniques, such as CPR.
If a patient needs a life-saving treatment that is not available at the original facility, he or she may be transported to a larger medical center. In these situations, flight nurses work with the medical team at the receiving facility. The nurse may help prepare the patient for treatment, as well as prepare case notes and patient files.
Day-to-day duties of a flight nurse also include daily aircraft and equipment checks, cleaning on-call rooms, checking expiration dates of medication, and ensuring the aircraft is ready for patients.
2. Earn a nursing degree
In order to practice as a flight nurse you will first need to earn a degree in nursing. You may qualify for the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) by earning an Associate of Science in Nursing (ASN, or ADN) or a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing (BSN).
Herzing University offers a variety of pathways to nursing for interested students:
- Associate degree in nursing program. Earn your Associate of Science in Nursing (ASN) to get in the field fastest.
- Bachelor’s degree in nursing program. Enroll in a 3-year program to earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), available both online and on-campus. We also offer an online RN to BSN bridge program for current associate degree RNs looking to earn their BSN faster, and a second degree nursing program for applicants with a BS in another field looking to transition into nursing.
- For LPNs: LPN to ADN/ASN and LPN to BSN programs. Bridge to a nursing degree in 12 to 32 months based on your course load.
- For paramedics: Paramedic to BSN option. Your professional experience as a paramedic or EMT can provide added value to a career as a flight nurse.
Program availability varies by campus.
3. Pass the NCLEX-RN exam and become an RN
In order to officially become a registered nurse you will need to sit for and pass the NCLEX-RN exam. This is a standardized test that state regulatory boards use to determine if students are ready to become licensed nurses.
Once you pass the exam and meet the board of nursing requirements in your state, you’re ready to start applying for jobs.
4. Gain hands-on nursing experience
Employers may be seeking applicants with a few years of experience in the ICU or ER. Working in these areas or a trauma unit can help provide aspiring flight nurses the knowledge needed to triage patients and manage a fast-changing flow of patients with a variety of care needs. Familiarity with basic aspects of navigation and flight can also prove helpful.
Certification is not currently required for flight nurses, but it can help increase your earning potential and help you stay competitive in the job market. You can demonstrate your competence in flight nursing by becoming a certified flight registered nurse (CFRN) from the Board of Certification for Emergency Nursing (BCEN).
Currently, you do not need a master’s degree to become a flight nurse; however, it can help improve your salary and earning potential.
How much can a flight nurse make?
According to 2018 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual wage for RNs was $75,510 per year ($36.30 per hour).* National averages do not typically reflect entry-level positions. Flight nurse salaries vary based on many factors including your experience, your employer, geographic area of work, and level of education.
5. Prepare to launch your career as a flight nurse
As a flight nurse, you have a unique opportunity to comfort those in distress and make a dramatic impact on their life and care. If you enjoy the medical field, work well under extreme pressure, and enjoy an adrenaline rush, a flight nurse may be a great career. Learn more by talking with one of Herzing’s advisors about our nursing programs today.