When the time it takes to transport critically ill or injured patients to a medical facility can mean the difference between life and death, they are often transported by air. However, patients must be stabilized while in transit. It falls to flight nurses to provide this stabilization and in-flight care. Also known as transport nurses, flight nurses are Registered Nurses (RNs) who provide such care. They are trained to perform emergency medical care, handle high-stress situations, make life-or-death decisions and work in atypical, unpredictable environments.
Flight nurses have a wide variety of duties. They might assist with anything from paperwork to resuscitation treatment. Aided only by a paramedic, flight nurses are often solely responsible for keeping the patient secure and stable until transport is complete. They are also responsible for carefully loading and unloading critically injured patients. Outside of immediate in-flight responsibilities, flight nurses are often also tasked with medication management and resource allocation.
Civilian and Military Roles
Flight nurses can work in either civilian or military environments. While civilian flight nurses enjoy more flexibility in location, military flight nurses often receive more pay due to the risks involved in the job. Military flight nurses often work in high-stress war zones, attending to wounded soldiers and personnel.
Glassdoor places the average yearly salary for U.S. flight nurses at $65,870, with top earners making $87,000 or more, as of March 2021. Salaries vary by location, program and the nurse’s years of experience.
Flight nurse positions tend to be demanding, involving many responsibilities and long hours. They often work 24-hour shifts of varying intensity. Flight nurse Janet Taylor shared that there may be no flights for extended periods of time, and at other times the entire shift may consist of back-to-back transports with little time and space for maintenance, paperwork and rest. Given the intense nature of the work and the level of responsibility, flight nurses with experience in a variety of healthcare settings tend to be in demand.
Education and Certifications
In order to gain this experience and become a flight nurse, candidates must meet a host of requirements. First, they must hold an RN license, with many flight nurse positions requiring a bachelor’s degree in nursing at minimum. Flight nurses need at least 3-5 years of combined ER and ICU experience as well. Experience in other medical settings helps, as do additional certifications.
Flight nursing careers are highly competitive; some nurses opt to obtain their Certified Flight Registered Nurse (CFRN) certification from the Board of Certification for Emergency Nursing. Many states also have specific certification requirements. For example, the state of Kentucky also requires flight nurses to obtain certification in a Neonatal Resuscitation Program (NRP).
Flight nurses enjoy fast-paced, rewarding careers doing lifesaving work. They operate autonomously, sometimes as part of a small team, to keep patients stable and secure. From soldiers in battle to newborn babies, patients in a variety of emergency settings benefit from the skills and experience of flight nurses.
Learn more about UAH’s online RN to BSN program.