How to Become a Flight Nurse
Flight nurses are highly trained RNs who board jets, airplanes, or rescue helicopters to provide medical care to ill or injured patients. These healthcare providers are also known as airplane nurses, aviation nurses, flight RNs, emergency flight nurses, army flight nurses, and aerocare flight nurses. These professionals offer life-sustaining care both in military and civilian environments. Flight nurses are different from traditional nurses as they provide medical care in time-sensitive moments. Therefore, one needs to put sincere efforts to become a flight nurse.
The job of a flight nurse is very strenuous and requires rigorous experience and training. But, at the same time, it is adventurous and exciting too. Attention to detail, confidence, strong physical stamina, excellent communication skills, and compassion are some of the sought-after skills in a flight nurse.
How Long does it take to Become a Flight Nurse?
It takes 8-10 years to become a flight nurse. You first need to acquire a diploma, associate, or 3-year Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree. After that, candidates must gain 3-5 years of working experience as a Registered Nurse in a hospital/clinic that specializes in intensive/critical care.
There are various accredited flight nurse programs that provide internship to the aspirants. You can choose one to delve deep into this career.
Flight Nurse Educational Requirements
The job of a flight nurse is very demanding, both mentally and physically. Therefore, they are required to undergo and clear a series of physiological tests. The requirements may vary depending on the company/hospital you are applying for. Some facilities prefer candidates having certifications in Advanced Cardiac Life Support, Basic Life Support, EMT, CPR, etc., in addition to CFRN certification.
Here are some of the basic education requirements all flight nurse aspirants must fulfill.
- A diploma, associate’s, or Bachelor of Science in nursing from an accredited nursing school.
- Pass the NCLEX (National Council Licensure Exam) to obtain a nursing license in the United States.
- Become a Certified Flight Registered Nurse (CFRN) from the Board of Certification for Emergency Nursing (BCEN).
- Previous experience working as a Registered Nurse in intensive care.
- Obtain extensive training in vaso-active medications, of hemodynamic support, mechanical ventilation, and other areas corresponding to emergency care.
Flight Nurse Certification
Aspirants who wish to become a flight nurse are supposed a certification from the Board of Certification for Emergency Nursing (BCEN). After qualifying the certification exam, candidates are bestowed with the credential of either Certified Transport Registered Nurse (CTRN) or Certified Flight Registered Nurse (CFRN).
Below is the stepwise process to obtain the CFRN certification.
1. Set Up Your Profile
Visit the website of BCEN (Board of Certification for Emergency Nursing) and create your BCEN account following the directions provided on the BCEN Account login page. Once your account is created, you can sign in using your username and password.
2. Fill Out the Application
Sign in to your BCEN account. You will see “My Certifications” on the left side of the screen. All the five certifications logo will be visible here. You have to click “Create New Application” visible next to the CFRN logo. Answer the essential questions.
3. Submit the Application and Fees
You can pay the fees via cheque or credit card.
If you want to make payment via credit card, you will have to select the billing address followed by entering the credit card information. Then, click “Submit Order”. After that, click “Confirm Order” to confirm your payment information.
If you want to make payment via cheque, you will have to print out the “Confirmation of Form Completion” page. Mail it with your payment.
Note: The applications that are submitted online with credit card payment are processed immediately. If the payment is made via cheque, your application will get processed in three-four weeks upon receipt of the full amount.
4. Schedule Your Exam
Upon processing of your application, BCEN will send you an exam eligibility email comprising information on how to schedule your examination with Pearson VUE, test delivery provider of BCEN. For detailed guidelines, read through the Candidate Handbook.
5. Take the Exam
Reach the testing center at least 30 minutes before your scheduled time with two valid IDs and printed appointment confirmation email. You will have to complete a site registration upon arriving. You are provided three hours to complete the exam.
6. Get Your Results
Once you complete your test, you will get your score report before leaving the test center. The score report will let you know whether you have qualified or failed the examination.
If you failed the examination, BCEN would send you an email with instructions on how to reapply for future tests.
Note: The process of CTRN certification is similar to that of CFRN certification. You just need to click “Create New Application” visible next to the CTRN logo while filling out the application.
Flight Nurse Duties and Responsibilities
Flight nurses provide emergency and pre-hospital care to patients while moving them via aircraft. As these professionals work independently without the help of doctors and deliver their duties under extreme stressful environment, they are provided with rigorous training. Flight nurses perform the following duties and responsibilities:
- Working with the flight crew and following flight protocols, ensuring the timely and safe transport of patients.
- Planning and preparation for aeromedical evacuation.
- Participating in pre-flight informational meetings.
- Complying with insurances, certifications, and other flight nurse regulations.
- Following clinical protocols, including principles of patient care, organizational standards, clinic-specific policies, patient confidentiality, HIPPA standards, etc.
- Monitoring the treatment response and condition of the patient and recording patient information.
- Evaluating patients needs in flight and ensuring the availability of medications, supplies, and equipment.
- Administering injections and/or medications and operating medical and non-medical equipment.
- Acting as a liaison between medical and operational aircrews.
- Accurately communicating patient condition to the receiving medical staff.
- Identifying transfer and discharge requirements in order to direct the patient upon landing.
- Attending CE (Continuing Education) programs related to their practice area.
- Assisting in pre-mission liftoff checklist, i.e., navigational, radio, and visual observation activities.
How much do flight nurses make?
The salary of flight nurses depends on various factors, including geographical location, employer, skills, experience, certifications, etc.
According to payscale.com, the average annual salary of flight nurses in the United States as of July 8, 2019, was $69,657, and the average hourly wage was $30.60.
Flight Nurse Salary by Experience
|Years of Experience||Average Total Compensation (including bonus, tips and overtime pay)|
|Less than a year||$27.48|
Information Source: payscale.com (as of July 8, 2019)
Staff Nurse – RN – Flight Transport in the US earned between $74,605 and $94,412, while their average annual salary was $84,061 (according to salary.com, as of July 30, 2019).
Flight Nurse Salary by Location
|State||Average Annual Salary|
|District of Columbia||$93,501|
Information Source: salary.com (as of July 30, 2019)
After analyzing the above table, it can be concluded that Alaska ($94,401), California ($93,896), District of Columbia ($93,501), New Jersey ($93,308), and Massachusetts ($91,458) were the top 5 paying states for this occupation.
Flight Nurse Jobs and Career Scope
The career of a flight nurse brings a lot of growth opportunities. Since it is a highly specialized field, you can expect a good salary if you choose to be a flight nurse. Because of the shortage of nurses in the aero-medical industry, there are excellent job opportunities for prospective aviation nurses in the future.
These professionals can work in fire departments, hospital-based research facilities, trauma centers, hospitals, US military (domestic emergencies or stationed overseas), private evacuation firms, and municipal, local or federal rescue organizations. Depending on your interest, you can serve as a military nurse or a civilian nurse.