How to Become a Flight Nurse

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Flight nurses care for patients who must be flown from one location to another. They may operate alone or be part of a critical care transport team, always facing the challenge of cramped conditions and limited equipment. Flight nurses must make fast decisions, exercise independent judgment and handle flying conditions that might cause air sickness. Some work under emergency rescue conditions and may need to stabilize severely injured patients while transporting them to the hospital. Becoming a flight nurse doesn’t happen overnight -- it takes years of education and requires plenty of experience.

In the Beginning

  • Before you can become a flight nurse, you must become a registered nurse. You can earn a nursing diploma from a hospital-based school of nursing, or study for an associate degree in nursing from a community college or university. Another option is to pursue a bachelor’s degree in nursing, or BSN. Although the BSN takes longer -- four years instead of two or three -- in the long run it will open more employment doors and increase your chances of advancing in the profession, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Get That License

  • To become a fully registered nurse, you must pass the NCLEX-RN national nursing examination. Then you can apply for a license in the state where you plan to practice. Your state might have other requirements, such as a criminal background check, and you should expect to pay a licensing fee. If you already know your goal is to become a flight nurse, check into license reciprocity. Reciprocity means that a license in one state is good in another state, and its helpful to flight nurses, who often must work in more than one state and be licensed in each state. Some states also require flight nurses to have an EMT license. EMT training includes topics not taught in nursing school, such as accident site safety, extrication techniques and field stabilization of trauma patients.

Experience Is Vital

  • Air ambulance services typically hire flight nurses who have had at least three years of critical care or emergency room experience. Flight nurses often work with critically ill or injured patients, who need nurses with a high level of skill and experience. Military, trauma and disaster relief flight nurses may work with patients with severe multiple injuries, such as gunshot or grenade wounds, fractured bones and internal injuries. A newly graduated RN should plan to gain at least one year of experience in an area such as medical-surgical nursing, then transfer into critical care. Although certification in this area is not required, many employers require specialty certification. National certification exams typically have experience requirements. You will also need specialized life support certifications, such as advanced cardiac life support, or ACLS.

Land That Job

  • Apply for positions with a life flight, air evacuation or air transport organization. Some large hospitals and health systems also have air transfer services. Highlight your relevant experience and qualifications in both your resume and during the interview. For example, military experience in a war zone would be desirable. The BLS notes that RNs are expected to be in demand from 2012 to 2022, with a projected growth rate of 19 percent, higher than the 11 percent average for all professions. Indeed.com reports flight nurses earned an average annual salary of $61,000 in 2014.

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