Life Flight Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs), also called flight paramedics, provide emergency medical care to critically ill or injured patients at emergency scenes and in the air. Due to their specialized training, flight paramedics offer a higher level of emergency care than ground-based ambulance paramedics. Flight paramedics typically work on helicopters but may also provide patient care from fixed-wing aircraft. In 2008 the Association of Air Medical Services estimated that more than 500,000 air ambulance missions are flown each year from approximately 800 bases across the U.S.
Becoming a Flight Paramedic
Life Flight paramedics begin their careers by training to become EMTs. EMT training is offered at many community colleges and takes about 120 hours. In the initial training, EMTs learn how to perform CPR, manage shock and bleeding, and splint broken bones. After EMT training, the student is eligible to attend paramedic training, which lasts at least 1,000 hours. Paramedics learn advanced EMT skills and perform cardiac monitoring, administer medications, insert breathing tubes and intravenous lines. Paramedic trainees also complete a clinical rotation in a hospital or clinic then a field internship where they are mentored by experienced paramedics. Life Flight EMTs receive additional specialized training, which may include aircraft safety, patient assessment and packaging, and caring for high-risk patient groups.
The hourly wage for a flight paramedic varies depending on the location of his employment base, previous experience and completion of specialized training. The Bureau of Labor Statistics indicated that wages for paramedics ranged from $9.74 to $24.74 an hour in 2009. A 2005 analysis by the National Registry of EMTs reported the average yearly salary for a paramedic as $43,535 but 2011 data from Simply Hired showed an average salary for a life flight paramedic at $41,000.
Due to the emergency nature of their work, flight paramedics may work long, irregular shifts, but also may receive lengthy periods of time off to compensate for the time they spent working. Working as a flight paramedic allows the paramedic to assess his interest in the medical field before training to become a registered nurse, physician or other health care worker. Flight paramedics who work for local governments, such as fire departments or independent third-service emergency medical services agencies typically have better salaries and benefits than those working in the private sector.
America's aging population is expected to drive the demand for emergency medical services and flight paramedics. A 7 to 13 percent increase in demand for flight paramedics is expected to take place through the year 2018. The job outlook is most favorable for flight paramedics who have attained advanced training and certifications.