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Quick Facts :
What Is a Flight Nurse?
The time it takes to transfer a patient from one point to another can often mean the difference between life and death. Because of this, many medical facilities, especially trauma centers, receive critically ill or injured patients, via air transport.
To ensure that patients reach their destinations safely and are stabilized while in transit, it is important to have trained medical professionals on board. In addition to paramedics – and sometimes physicians – flight nurses may provide care on rescue and life flights.
Since patients transported via aircraft are often in critical condition, flight nurses and other medical personnel on board must be trained to perform emergency medical care. Not only that, but they must be able to handle high stress situations, make quick decisions, and work in an atypical healthcare environment.
As a flight nurse, you have to option of working in either the civilian sector or for the military. Civilian flight nurses often have more freedom to decide where they’d like to work. Your salary and benefits while working as a civilian flight nurse will often be impressive, but they usually won’t compare to that of a military flight nurse. On the other hand, working as a military flight nurse often involves flying into war-torn areas to extract severely wounded soldiers and other patients.
What Does a Flight Nurse Do?
Flight nurses have a number of duties and responsibilities. They are sometimes required to assist pilots with navigation and other flight duties, such as communicating via radio, for instance. A flight nurse’s first responsibility, however, lies with her patient.
When transporting patients from one medical facility to another, flight nurses and their teams must first collect any necessary paperwork, such as medical charts or physician instructions. This paperwork must be kept in a safe place and later be transferred to the receiving medical facility.
If a patient is being transported from a trauma site, however, flight nurses will be required to provide and assist with emergency medical care. This could range from first aid treatment to resuscitation.
Before a medical aircraft takes off, patients must first be secured. In order to do this, flight nurses must strap them to gurneys, and strap the gurneys to the inside of the aircraft. This is to ensure that the patients are not jostled around during the flight.
En route to their destinations, flight nurses and their teams are solely responsible for the well-being of their patients. They have no other medical staff to rely on, if necessary, and they alone must monitor patients and provide medical care, if necessary. They may involve starting intravenous lines, administering medications, performing emergency first aid, and performing advanced life support or resuscitation procedures. Because this is often a very frightening time for patients, flight nurses will also talk to them and communicate with them in an effort to reassure them and keep them calm.
Once they reach their destinations, flight nurses and their teams will transfer their patients from the aircraft to the receiving medical facilities. This involves carefully unloading the patients and transferring them to the awaiting medical staff. In doing so, flight nurses will pass any necessary paperwork to the receiving medical professionals, update them on the patients’ conditions, and notify them of any problems or medical treatment given during the flight.
Where Do Flight Nurses Work?
Flight nurses perform most of their duties in aircraft like helicopters and fixed-wing planes, thousands of feet above the ground.
Civilian flight nurses might be employed by medical facilities like hospitals and trauma centers. However, many flight nurses can also find employment in fire departments, search and rescue organizations, and independent medical evacuation firms.
Military flight nurses work in nearly all branches of the United States military, including the reserves. With the exception of a domestic emergency, military flight nurses almost always spend their time on overseas military bases, rescuing and transporting injured soldiers.
How Do I Become a Flight Nurse?
There are a couple different routes you can go if you’re looking to become a flight nurse.
Your first option involves finding a nursing program and earning your nursing degree and passing the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN). Once you’re become a registered nurse, you can then start working toward a graduate degree in emergency nursing. Experience in emergency rooms and intensive care units is also very helpful. After you’ve earned your graduate degree and gained some experience, you can then sit for the Certified Flight Registered nurse Examination, which is offered by the Board of Certification for Emergency Nursing.
If you’re looking to become a military flight nurse, you can follow the steps above. However, you will also need to complete several weeks of military training as well. Most military branches will help you complete the required education as well, if necessary.
Additional Resources for Flight Nurses
- My Career as a Flight Nurse
- Flight Web
- So You Want to Be a Flight Nurse?
- Story of a Flight Nurse
- The Association of Air Medical Services (AAMS)
- Aeromedical Society of Australasia
- The Air Medical Physician Association (AMPA)
- Air & Surface Transport Nurses Association (ASTNA)
- National Association of Air Medical Communication Specialists (NAACS)