Become a Flight Nurse

Nurses are always on the front lines no matter where they are working. Of all the branches of nursing, however, none can rival the immediacy of flight nursing. Sometimes called transport nurses, the flight RN is with patients in only the most extreme situations. 

It’s a job that takes nerves of steel, intense training, and job candidates that are good under pressure. In this article, we take a closer look at what this job is, what kind of responsibilities are involved, and how you can increase your chances of finding work in a very competitive non-bedside nursing job. 

First, What is a Flight Nurse?

Flight nurses are nurses who have been trained to provide high-quality care to patients as they are being transferred from one location to another. They are sometimes referred to as “transport nurses.” Typically, these nursing situations take place during flights, either in emergency helicopters or airplanes. 

Usually, flight nurses are only involved in acute emergencies, meaning that their work regularly revolves around life or death situations, in which the potential patient outcomes can shift radically based on single decisions. 

What Do Flight Nurses Do? 

The responsibilities are much the same as that of an ER nurse, though condensed into a very confined space. When there is not an emergency taking place, flight nurses perform upkeep tasks, cleaning rooms, monitoring their equipment and medication levels and, in short, making sure that their aircraft is ready to service the needs of their patients. 

When flight nurses get the call, they must respond immediately. Because most situations involving flight nurses are emergencies, they will rarely know what, if any calls they will have when they show up to work. 

Because the responsibilities of a flight nurse are so varied, the majority of their practical training happens on the job. However, the increased availability of AI and augmented reality has made it easier for AI nurses to access highly detailed simulations that vividly mimic emergency situations. 

Is Flight Nursing for Me? 

Flight nursing can be a fast-paced, high-pressure work environment. Even talented medical professionals may wish to think twice before entering into this high-stakes work environment. Not only do flight nurses need to be able to think quickly on their feet, but they must also be emotionally prepared for a line of work in which patient outcomes can turn bad fast. 

Getting the requisite experience in ICU and ER wings may help nurses get a better idea of if working in transport is right for them. As you cultivate the necessary experience, ask yourself if you feel like you can be happy in an environment that is even more filled with pressure. 

Flight Nurse Salary

Fight nurses make an average of approximately $80,000 annually, or $39 an hour. Experienced flight nurses may make even more, with some reaching salaries that exceed six figures. 

Step 1: Become an RN

All flight nurses go through training to become registered nurses. These programs are typically completed throughout the regular course of a four-year bachelor’s degree program, though there are also accelerated course loads that allow future nurses to receive their accreditation in as little as 12-18 months. 

While all RN programs feature similar requirements, people who are interested in becoming flight nurses may benefit from speaking with their instructors or advisors for recommendations on electives, and other coursework decisions. 

Any training that will prepare you for emergency response readiness will be vital during your career as a flight nurse. 

Step 2: Accumulate Experience

Flight nursing jobs can be very competitive. As an industry-standard, RNs are usually expected to have around five years of experience working in an ER or ICU before they apply to be a flight nurse. The more experience you have in emergency response medical care, the more competitive your resume will be. 

Naturally, because the majority of flight nurses are working on an aircraft, it can also help to have some established background knowledge on flying or navigation—though this is not explicitly required. 

Step 3: Get Certified

It’s also important to get certified as a Flight Registered Nurse. While this needn’t necessarily happen before you get hired, it is a great way to stand out to future employers, who will likely value job candidates that have as much experience and background knowledge as possible. 

Taking steps towards certification also gives you the chance to familiarize yourself a little more with the job to make sure that you feel you are a good fit for it. 

Step 4: Start Applying

While the world is experiencing a historic shortage of nurses, the position of flight nurse remains a competitive job. But while experts across the industry agree it is a hard career path to break into, getting hired is still possible for the candidate with the right experience and skill set. 

Getting as much experience with emergency work as you can is a great way to get your foot in the door. A willingness to relocate may also significantly increase your chances of finding work. Even large areas will require significantly fewer flight nurses than they do bedside caregivers. By expanding your search field, you maximize your odds of getting hired.

There are only about 800 airborne emergency transport vehicles operating in the United States. While this number may sound substantial, it pales in comparison to other forms of medical employment. For example, there are over 6000 hospitals in the United States. 

Of course, just because it may be difficult to find work doesn’t mean it will be impossible. Remember: patience pays off.  

Paying for Your Education

Getting your nursing degree can be very expensive. To pay for your education, consider looking into the grant and loan options that will be available to you. The majority of people graduating from college do so with at least some debt. 

While college loans can be difficult to manage, thinking proactively about your financing can make a big difference in the long run.

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