Flight nursing what an adventure it is! If you are ready for a challenge and do not mind working with patients with sometimes-complex cases then becoming a flight nurse could be for you!

How to Become a Flight Nurse Guide
How to Become a Flight Nurse Guide

Table of Contents

Quick Summary

Time is of the essence to flight nurses once they hit the ground they try to evacuate patients off the field within 10 minutes or less! Flight nurses provide airborne critical care to patients around the country.

Flight nurses also are known as Flight for life nurses and medical transport nurses. They provide time-sensitive and sometimes lifesaving patient care during air transport. This medium could be by helicopter, which is referred to by flight nurses as a rotor-wing, or by an airplane, which is known as a fixed-wing.

Flight nurses use their nursing skills and specialized knowledge to stabilize patients and keep them alive until they can further receive medical treatment.

Degree needed to practice: Bachelor of Science (BSN)

License Needed: Registered Nursing (RN) Licensure

Certification: The Certified Flight Registered Nurse (CFRN) certification is available and is offered by the Board of Certification for Emergency Nurses

How much do Flight nurses make?  The Median annual salary is $67,490*


What does a flight nurse do?

Flight nursing is a special kind of nursing with a different type of nursing care that is provided. Frequently requiring intricate knowledge of trauma injuries with the ability to stay calm during high-stress situations.

Imagine walking in the door and reporting to work and the next thing you hear is alarms going off, you are suited up with heavy gear, medical equipment, and night vision goggles. You are not sure where dispatch is sending your flight crew but someone is hurt and desperately needs help now!

Again, picture being 10,000 feet in the sky and traveling 600 mph or more to provide patient care to some of the most severely injured and critically ill patients. This can take place in some of the most remote and unstable environments such as a bridge, rural areas, freeway, beach, or remote locations.

Most times everyone is waiting for the helicopter and the medical crew to arrive on a scene, and often when flight nurses arrive on the scene, the scene can be extremely chaotic.

Accidents flight nurses and their medical crew may respond to are disaster scenes, people that may have gotten in a car crash, boating accidents, drownings any and everything. The whole point of airborne critical care is to get the critically ill and injured patients from point A to point B as safely as possible to start patient care or continue patient care. This is what flight nursing is.

Many times flight nursing involves not just arriving at a sometimes horrific accident but additionally providing transport services to patients between healthcare facilities. According to the website OSF life flight, 92% of patients are known as, “inter-faculty transfers.”  This means patients who are critically ill or have sustained injuries sometimes may need air transporting to a unit such as the intensive care (ICU) or emergency department (ED) that can provide a higher or more specific level of attention.

Flight nursing is a mix of several different nursing specialties. One can view the flight nurse as the “Jack of all trades.” Becoming a flight nurse involves having the skills of nurses found in the Intensive Care Unit and the Emergency Department.

Flight nurses have a degree of autonomy. When flight nurses arrive on the scene, they sometimes have to make life-changing decisions. When lifted off into the air the flight nurse does not always have a doctor on the back to double-check with or ask questions such as, “can this be done to the patient?” or “can we do that to the patient?”

Flight nurses have to know what needs to be done to help make the patient better. The clock is ticking with very few minutes if not seconds to spare. There is a small number of flight crews that may have a Doctor or Flight Nurse Practitioner onboard however this is not always typical. Flight nurses often draw from best practices to help make the right decisions for patients.

Flight nursing is a career path for people that thrive off plenty of adrenaline, enjoy a fast-paced environment, and can work well under pressure. Flight nurses have a sense of urgency that never seems to go away. They have to be prepared to go out for the call of duty at a moment’s notice with the ability to perform at optimum levels to help save patients’ lives.


Common Flight Nurse Duties

  • Provide assessment, intervention, and stabilization techniques
  • Sometimes deliver lifesaving emergency medical care
  • Provide flight-nursing care during ground and patient air transports
  • Review patient flight records
  • Keep a close monitor of patients during transport flights
  • Perform rapid per-departure patient assessments
  • Work as part of a rescue team
  • May need to help to educate police, firefighters, or EMS personnel on how to set up a landing zone for the helicopter to safely arrive at the destination
  • Coordinate with other medical professionals to make sure patients are transported safely


What are the characteristics and skills needed to be a successful Flight Nurse?

The ability to stay calm in high-stress situations is needed to become a flight nurse. Unfortunately, within this career, you never know what scene your flight crew will be dispatched to. What you do as a nurse can heavily affect patient lives and at the end of the day, you will know if you tried your best or not.

Part of becoming a flight nurse is having a strong sense of communication. Your role as a flight nurse can often involve speaking with people from various lifestyles, cultures, and occupations. Having the ability be able to lead, make quick decisions with the capacity to work in the absence of a physician is imperative for this role.

Is flight nursing a demanding field?

Yes! Flight nursing is one of the most emotional and physically challenging specialties within the nursing field. Many means of transport and flight nurses explain flight nursing is physically exhausting with long, unpredictable hours. Often flight nurses are geared up with the state of the art equipment.

Flight equipment can include night vision goggles, a safety helmet, a protective vest, heavy boots, and a medical bag that can weigh up to 50 pounds! This equipment bag holds medicine, drugs, dressings, and various tools that are needed to stabilize patients.

Besides, you will work in a small mobile environment, and this career involves plenty of bending, squatting, grasping and pushing, and pulling injured patients.

Helicopter vs. airplane transport which one will, I work on?

Both. Flight nurses perform both helicopter and aircraft transporting. Helicopters are mainly used to perform, “On scene work,” this allows for faster access to patients that may have gotten in an accident on the ground. Also, helicopter-scene flights are for normally transport adults between medical facilities. Aircraft or airplane carrying is for transporting patients that may need to get transferred a longer distance such as another state. Aircraft carrying can also be used to help transport patients when the weather is too unstable and too risky for a helicopter to fly.

Career options where can I work?

Flight nurses have several career choices. Many flight nurses come from paramedic backgrounds or have emergency nursing experiences. Flight nurses can join the military or work for hospitals, private companies, or even the U.S government.

What Advanced skills are required to be a flight/transport nurse?

Flight nurses perform several duties an Advanced Practice Nurse (APN) would perform. Their skills often involve knowledge of airway management, advanced life support, tube tracheotomy, and more. It takes more than just your average training to become a great flight nurse; it takes experience and confidence to become a great flight nurse.

Working as a part of a team

The typical crew on board an airplane or helicopter consists of a pilot, one or two nurses, and a paramedic. Flight nursing can be challenging this is why it takes a team endeavor to get the patient stabilized and to his or her destination. Flight nursing is risky; frequently when the medical transport team is landing, they are consistently checking out their environment when landing. Birds, power lines, or even other aircraft could cause them to get an accident or even kill them while trying to land.

How can I advance my career as a flight nurse?

There are several positions one can take as a flight nurse to advance their career; these positions include becoming a Medevac Flight Nurse, Senior Flight Nurse, Chief Flight Nurse, Fixed Wing Flight Nurse, Flight Nurse Per Diem, Flight Commander, and more!

There are two ways to expand your career opportunities. It is obtaining more experience or more education. One career goal you may want to consider is becoming Advanced Practice Registered Flight Nurse (APRN) however; you will need an MSN degree from an accredited nursing school to become an APRN.

Like any career the more education and experience, you have the greater in demand you will be. Additionally allowing you to earn a higher income.

Nevertheless, remember your pay will depend on the employer you may be employed with. There are private companies that need flight nurses to work on the board of private aircraft that pay considerably higher pay. It just all depends on several factors. However, the opportunities are out there for flight nurses to move up in positions and earn higher salaries!


What education will I need to become a Flight Nurse?

To become a flight nurse you must first go through nursing school and pass the NCLEX-RN and obtain an unrestricted Registered Nursing license.

There are three kinds of nursing programs you can choose from to propel your flight nursing career. The first nursing program is an Associate’s Degree with a concentration in Nursing this typically takes about two years if you attend school full-time. You can find these nursing programs at vocational and community colleges.

Your clinical training is done by a local hospital close to the community college campus. The second nursing program is graduating with a nursing diploma. Hospital diploma programs are offered by hospitals and independent schools and can take three years to complete.

The last option and perhaps the better choice is the Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program. By enrolling in a BSN program, you will gain more hands-on training and be exposed to a wide variety of nursing classes.

The BSN option will offer you the most career mobility. This is because the majority of higher-paying positions such as manager and supervisory positions require at least a BSN.

Bsn degrees can take four years or more to complete. BSN nursing programs offer several nursing classes that include pharmacology, health policy, and issues, management strategies, pediatrics, geriatrics, and more.

Traditional universities offer BSN nursing programs and private schools, some private universities offer online training to help you complete your degree in a shorter amount of time.

Once you complete your accredited nursing program of choice, you must take and pass the NCLEX-RN exam that is mandatory for all 50 states to become a Registered Nurse. To qualify to take the NCLEX-RN, you will either need to hold a Nursing Diploma, ADN, or BSN.

To become a flight nurse you will need to gain paid registered nursing experience working in the emergency department or intensive care unit of at least three years.

 Credentials/Certifications available for Flight Nurses

Certification is available through the Board of Certification for Emergency Nursing (BCEN). The BCEN offers The Certified Flight Registered Nurse (CFRN) certification. Most employers may request as part of you accepting the job offer is to obtain the CFRN certification after some years of being a flight nurse.

To be eligible to sit for this certification the BCEN requires:

  1. Unrestricted Registered Nursing License
  2. Recommended not necessary – 2 years as a flight nurse

According to the BCEN website, there are over 3,100 registered nurses that have gone on to obtain their CFRN credentials.


Career Outlook

Flight nurses will continue to be in high demand to care for critically ill and injured patients. Along with most medical fields, nursing is expected to grow much faster than average within the next ten years. The nursing field is predicted to increase with no signs of slowing down. The Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS) is projecting 587,000 nursing jobs will open within the following year.


Read also – How to Become a Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS) Guide

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