How to Become a Flight Nurse

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Written by Morganne Skinner, BSN Content Writer, IntelyCare
Flight nurse transporting patient

Do you get excited by constant change and the rush of adrenaline? Are you drawn to critical care and emergency care in nursing? Do you thrive in environments with high levels of autonomy and critical thinking? If so, flight nursing may be the career for you.

We’ll show you how to become a flight nurse, including what they do, where they work, and what type of education you’ll need.

What Is a Flight Nurse?

A flight nurse is a registered nurse (RN) who is specially trained to care for patients during transportation in a helicopter or airplane. They are also called transport nurses. They work alongside paramedics and physicians to safely attend to patient’s medical needs during aircraft transportation.

What Does a Flight Nurse Do?

A flight nurse has many of the same responsibilities as other registered nurses. They often provide acute care to patients, like an emergency room or critical care nurse would, implementing various interventions to keep their patient stable. The difference is that flight nurses are in the air, working in small teams, and have limited resources.

When they are not caring for patients, they are preparing the aircraft by checking expiration dates of medications and restocking items.

Examples flight nursing duties:

  • Administering medications
  • Performing CPR and first aid
  • Inserting IVs and administering fluids
  • Providing manual ventilation and oxygen therapy
  • Checking aircraft and equipment

Flight Nurse vs. Critical Care Nurse

One difference between flight nursing and critical nursing is that a flight nurse may care for a patient of any age, with any condition. Critical care units are usually designed to care for a specific population: newborns in a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) or adults in a Surgical Intensive Care Unit (SICU). Because flight nurses can respond to disasters, they may not always know who their patient will be, what conditions they have, or what state they will be in.

What Are Flight Nurse Education Requirements?

When thinking about how to become a flight nurse, you may wonder about the type of flight nurse training and education you’ll need.

Your first step in flight nurse requirements is to become a RN. You have many options to do this, but it comes down to pursuing either an associate degree in nursing (ADN) or bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) degree. After you complete nursing school, you’ll have to take a national licensure exam, the NCLEX-RN, to obtain your nursing license.

Next, you’ll need to gain nursing experience. Many flight nursing employers will want their nurses to have three to five years of experience in critical care or the ER.

Get Your Flight Nurse Certification

Employers tend to prefer flight nurses who have a flight nursing certification along with acute care nursing experience. The Board of Certification for Emergency Nursing (BCEN) offers a Certified Flight Registered Nurse (CFRN) certification.

Registered nurses with an active, unencumbered license are eligible to take this certification. It’s recommended to have two years of flight nursing before acquiring the certification, though it’s not required. The certification is active for four years before renewal is required.

What Are Good Flight Nurse Skills to Develop?

To discover how to become a flight nurse, you’ll need to learn about what skills flight nurses need.

Flight nurses need excellent clinical skills. Because they’ll be working in smaller teams with limited resources, they need to be competent, confident, and resourceful.

Flight nurses excel with these skills:

  • Critical thinking
  • Ventilator training and competence
  • Neonatal resuscitation
  • Strong leadership
  • Pediatric advanced life support (PALS)
  • Excellent communication
  • Triage and trauma care

How Long Does It Take to Become a Flight Nurse?

Along with pondering how to become a flight nurse, you might also be thinking about how long it will take. You may want to know what you’re really getting into and if it’s possible for you.

A large chunk of the time investment will come from nursing school. Depending on the route you choose, you can expect it to take two to four years. When you add in your nursing experience and flight nursing training, you’re looking at about nine years to become a flight nurse.

Where Can a Flight Nurse Work?

There are two main types of flight nurses: civilian or military.

Civilian flight nurse: These nurses typically work for private or public hospitals, trauma centers, aviation companies, and clinics.

Military flight nurse: These nurses work for the military and are typically in the Air Force.

In both kinds of roles, the flight nurse is caring for patients being transported from one location to the next. Sometimes the patient is being transferred to a different hospital, such as when their acuity changes and they need a higher level of care. In these instances, the nurse receives report on the patient from the hospital or facility nurse.

Other times, the flight nurse is rescuing a patient from a disaster or major injury and transporting them directly to the hospital or facility for care. In these instances, the nurse triages the patient (sometimes groups of patients) to determine the most appropriate level of care. As you may have guessed, this scenario can come with many more unknowns and challenges.

How Much Do Flight Nurses Make?

Not only do you want to know how to become a flight nurse, but you want to be sure it’s worth investment. The average flight nurse salary is $92,400 per year.

Ready to Take Your Nursing Career Higher?

You’ve learned how to become a flight nurse — now you’re ready to make it happen. Need to gain critical care or emergency room experience? Intelycare can help. Apply today and find the right job for your goals.