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How to Become a Flight Nurse

Flight nurses work in a variety of different environments and with patients with many different kinds of ailments and injuries, from minor to life-threatening. Because of this, flight nursing is one of the most demanding nursing specialties and requires more education and experience than most nursing jobs. If this sounds exciting to you, you may want to look into how to become a flight nurse.

Become a Registered Nurse

The first step to a career as a flight nurse is to get a nursing degree. There are three basic avenues to a nursing degree: a 2-year Associate’s program at a community college, a 3-year diploma program at a hospital (rare), or a 4-year Bachelors of Science in Nursing (BSN) at a university. Completing any of these three degrees will allow a nurse to become a Registered Nurse, but most flight nursing companies want their nurses to have at least a BSN, if not a Master’s degree. After graduation, nurses must take a licensing test to become RNs.

Get an Emergency or Critical Care Job

Flight nurses have to prove that they will be good on the job by gaining experience in either an emergency room or in a critical care unit. Either way, they need to have experience working on traumas and in other high pressure situations. Because flight nurses are often the only medical professional involved in trauma situations hundreds of miles from a hospital or up in the air in a helicopter, it is important that they can think on their feet, work on multiple casualties at once, and stay cool under pressure. Most companies require flight nurses to have 3-5 years of experience.

Choose the Right Hospital

When choosing a place to work, prospective flight nurses should carefully consider the type of hospital or facility that they’re going to work in. Flight nursing jobs are extremely competitive, with a turnover rate of less than 5% per year, so it often is necessary to know someone on the flight crew or in the company that runs it. Working at a big Trauma I or Trauma II hospital that already has a crew will make it possible to meet members of the team and perhaps even do a ride-along to increase the chance of making it onto the team.

Get More Education

Continuing education is extremely important for prospective flight nurses. Medical evacuation companies require nurses to be trained in Basic Life Support/CPR, Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS), Trauma Nurse Core Course (TNCC), Basic Trauma Life Support (BTLS), Prehospital Trauma Life Support (PHTLS), Pediatric Advanced Life Support (PALS), and other certifications before being interviewed. Many states also require that flight nurses go through paramedic EMT or EMS training.

Specialty Certifications

Finally, most companies like to see that a nurse has a specialty critical or emergency care certification. These are voluntary and require the nurse to sit for an exam. They also must be renewed every three years and thus require ongoing professional development. At least one of the Certified Flight Registered Nurse, Certified Critical Care Registered Nurse, or Certified Emergency Nurse certifications will be required. Finally, some companies prefer that their flight nurses be nurse practitioners, so it may be a good idea to look into this program, as well.

Flight nurses work in extreme situations, so it is important to be as well trained and prepared as possible. The jobs are also highly competitive, so it is important to complete all of your certifications before applying.