Nursing can take you around the world, across the country, into rural, urban or even suburban areas depending on your specialty and the demand for nurses in those areas. Nursing can also take you into the air, especially if you are highly skilled in trauma care and have a high spirit of adventure. A career as a flight nurse is demanding, both mentally and physically, and is perfect for those who revel in a fast-paced environment like an emergency department, but much smaller, less equipped and hundreds or thousands of feet in the air.
Flight nurses are nursing professionals who perform critical care on helicopters, airplanes and jets after rescues or in the case of life-threatening trauma from accidents, natural disasters or other catastrophic events as well as transferring patients from hospital to hospital, as the need may arise. Patients range from the elderly man who collapsed in his home to premature infants who may need a rapid transfer to a higher level NICU than what is found within the hospital they were born, and anyone in between who needs immediate care from a qualified hospital. Some flight nurses may also serve as medical escorts for patients with illnesses or injuries that may prohibit them from traveling alone.
Many flight nurses are often specialists in emergency medicine, critical care, ICU nursing or have other training, such as a, EMT or paramedic. Mentally, flight nurses need to be prepared for some of the hardest patient care possible, especially when dealing with the aftermath of natural disasters, vehicle accidents, neonatal care or even in a military setting. The job is demanding physically, as well, and flight nurses are expected to be in top physical shape in order to perform some of the potential job functions, such as triage in tight spaces or even being part of a rescue team.
Beyond an RN to BSN degree in nursing, extra certifications and experience may be required for flight nurses. Most flight nurses are expected to have worked in an emergency department, critical care or intensive care unit for two or more years. Certifications in life support, resuscitation and trauma nursing are also desired, plus any additional education or experience that can reflect the nurse’s ability to make quick decisions that help stabilize and save lives. For flight nurses who serve as a medical escort, it may be beneficial to have experience or certifications in the illnesses of the patients being cared for. Lastly, it is important that a flight nurse is able to process trauma and the experience of being “on call” or the ability to function in high-altitude situations.
Flight nursing is a competitive job with little turnover, because of the challenges and career satisfaction it provides. Critical trauma care is never an easy job, even within a fully staffed and supplied hospital setting, and the nurses who help in life-threatening, flight situations must be highly skilled and mentally and physically competent. Flight nurses go the extra mile to ensure the best care is given to patients who are out of the logistical range of qualified hospitals or medical care centers. Read more about the most popular careers in nursing.