Flight Nurse Helicopter

Career Paths: What Does It Take to Become a Flight Nurse

There are few nursing specialties as fast-paced or challenging as flight nursing.

Could you provide high-quality critical care to the sickest patients while working in the cramped cabin of a small plane or helicopter? Flight nurses do just that. They perform under tremendous pressure, working to stabilize and manage patients who are being airlifted from the scene of a roadside accident or disaster site, as well as critically ill patients who are being transferred between facilities.

Flight nurses must have excellent patient assessment skills and clinical judgment. They must be able to make quick decisions in emergency situations. Because of the demands of the job, most employers require a minimum five years of experience as an emergency room or critical care nurse in order to even consider an applicant. In addition, flight nurses are asked to demonstrate proficiency in advanced field skills like oral intubation, placing surgical airways, mechanical ventilation, trauma life support, cardiac life support, and the use of vasoactive drugs to prevent a patient from going into shock. They may also need to know about obstetrics and delivery, neonatal resuscitation, and pediatric life support measures.

Depending on the situation, a flight nurse might work independently to manage a patient, or as part of a team that includes physicians or emergency medical technicians. Flight nurses have to be able to operate in small, enclosed spaces, aboard a variety of different aircraft. This means they often have to be resourceful and have complex problem solving skills. It also means that most employers have weight or height requirements for flight nurses – it’s essential that they be able to be maneuver easily in the available space, without interfering with the flight crew. Employers may also look at age, health status, and fitness level, because of the physical demands of the job.

Making a surgical incision to insert a chest tube or drain fluid from the chest cavity requires a steady hand under even the best of circumstances. Some flight nurses are able to practice advanced lifesaving skills in a simulator that recreates the sensation of flying from takeoff to landing, complete with movement that mimics changing altitudes and even turbulent weather conditions.

Because of the critical thinking skills that are required in this job, flight nurses ideally should be prepared with a BSN or MSN. There are also several relevant certifications: Certified Flight Registered Nurse (CFRN), Certified Transport Registered Nurse (CTRN), Certified Emergency Nurse (CEN), and CCRN (Certified Critical Care Nurse).

Are you interested in finding a rewarding a lucrative nursing specialty that fits your individual strengths and interests? Find out how education can help you adapt to the changing healthcare landscape. American Sentinel University is an innovative, accredited provider of online nursing degrees,  including an RN-to BSN program and advanced degree programs that prepare nurses for a specialty in case management, infection control, or executive leadership.


Share this story:

Read more about:

BSN MSN nursing careers
Share this story: