Exciting Nursing Careers: Becoming a Flight Nurse

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In some instances, patients who require urgent medical care are transported by air instead of by a ground ambulance. Air transport may occur because of the location of the patient or the need to transport the patient to a medical center, which is located far away. Flight nurses are registered nurses who specialize in caring for critically ill patients while they are being transported by air to the receiving hospital.

Two gap medics students waiting on the wards in Iringa, Tanzania. Responsibilities of a Flight Nurse

Flight nurses are dispatched to the location where the patient is waiting for transport. It could be a remote location where the patient was just rescued from. In other cases, nurses will transport a patient from one medical facility to another by air since it is faster. 

Once the patient is secured in the aircraft, the flight nurse is responsible for the patient’s wellbeing. The care administered will vary depending on the type of injury or illness. Care may involve completing an assessment, monitoring the patient’s vital signs and keeping them calm on route. Nurses may also administer medication, dress wounds and perform emergency first aid. In some situations, life-threatening conditions need to be treated, which may involve performing CPR and inserting a breathing tube.

Training to Become a Flight Nurse

The first step on the path to becoming a flight nurse is earning your registered nursing degree.  After completing either a two-year or four-year nursing program, you need to pass a state licensing exam.

New graduates are not hired as flight nurses. In most cases, a minimum of a few years of experience working in the emergency room or intensive care unit is required. In most cases, additional certifications are needed, such as advanced cardiac life support, pre-hospital trauma life support and advanced burn life support.

The more certifications you earn related to emergency care, the better your chances of getting a position. Nurses who have worked in the pre-hospital setting for a ground ambulance company will have an advantage when it comes to getting a job.

Flight nurses may work on helicopters or fixed wing aircrafts. Some companies may require nurses pass a physical and not go over a specific weight limit. Additional training is usually required related to transport safety.

Skills and Traits Needed

Working as a flight nurse requires several skills and personality traits in order to be successful. For example, flight nurses need to be in good physical shape. They are spending a lot of time crouching, bending, standing and lifting.

Nurses should also be confident in their skills. In an aircraft, you may be with another nurse or a paramedic. But you will not have an entire medical team by your side. You must be able to make quick decisions and trust your judgment. 

Nurses often perform procedures, such as starting intravenous lines, inserting breathing tubes and drawing blood. Good manual dexterity and fine motor skills are useful.

Most flight nurses work for trauma centers. But additional employment opportunities may include county rescue services and air transport companies.

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