The Flight Nurse (Transport Nurse) position is one of the most competitive nursing positions available. The Flight nurse must possess a depth of knowledge and experience that is usually unavailable to the new graduate. Most transport nurses have years of experience in emergency care, trauma units or critical care units and even so; the competition is fierce for the positions available.
Flight Nurse Job Description & Scope of Practice
The flight transport nurse is part of a flight team which transports critically ill patients from accident scenes or to major medical centers equipped to deal with these conditions. This type of nurse often has a high degree of autonomy in their roles and is able to respond to changes in patient’s conditions appropriately. They attempt to stabilize the patient or to maintain the patient’s condition until they can reach the major medical center facilities.
A transport nurse may fly over several hundreds of miles to respond to accidents, disasters or a request for emergency transport for a critically ill adult or child.
They administer medications directed by protocol and doctors orders, they monitor patient’s condition during the flight; they may under direction perform aggressive life support measures when the patient condition warrants it. All the skills required of a trauma nurse are called into action with a flight nurse. These nurses must be able to understand life support protocols and the technology used.
How to Become a Flight Nurse
A Flight Nurse is a Registered Nurse holding a valid license and usually with many years of experience in emergency care, cardiac care, or a trauma unit. The skills obtained in the emergency unit, or trauma unit are necessary for carrying out the job of a transport nurse.
This flight nursing position is unlike the rest of nursing where shortages mean that there are more openings for nurses than there are qualified nurses. The flight transport nurse generally has more applicants for the position than there are available slots. What this means for the nurse with her eye on the sky is that she will normally spend several years preparing for the position. A more advanced degree such as a Master of Science in Nursing with a specialization in trauma or emergency care can be very helpful.
Flight Nurse Education Requirements, Certification, and Schooling Programs
- A minimum of an Associate Degree in Nursing is required but due to the intense competition for these openings a Bachelor of Science in Nursing or a Master of Science in Nursing will increase the nurse’s chance of winning a position.
- Licensing as an RN is required.
- Several years of experience in a trauma unit or emergency department are required before the registered nurse can apply to take the ALPC examination (Advanced Life Support) or a PALSC examination (Pediatric Advanced Life Support).
- EMT experience can be helpful if the RN meets the other requirements.
- Certified Flight Registered Nurses (CFRN) obtain certification by successfully completing a computer-based exam consisting of 180 multiple-choice on several subjects single system emergencies, multiple system emergencies, patient management, safety issues and professional issues. The exam takes approximately three hours to complete and is given through the Board of Certification for Emergency Nursing (BCEN). Flight nurses are organized through the Air and Surface Transport Nurses Association (ASTNA). Certification is not required to work as a flight nurse, but it should be considered after gaining experience as a nurse in flight.
Flight Nurse Salary and Career Outlook
Although the competition for available positions is fierce, the job outlook for transport nurses is fair to good. The baby boom generation coming into retirement age is behind the increased need for nurses and that includes flight transport units. The well prepared and educated nurse can expect to see a growth in the number of positions open for flight nurses.
The average salary of the transport nurse is similar to that of a trauma nurse in the same area, depending upon the employer and the level of education of the nurse. A salary of around $76,000 is reported as an average for a flight nurse.