A flight nurse is a highly trained healthcare professional who delivers pre-hospital patient care aboard an aircraft. These nurses are members of a critical care team that treats extremely compromised patients in an unstable environment. Typically, a flight nurse’s patients have either undergone significant trauma that requires speedy evacuation to a medical facility, or quick transport from one hospital to another. Military flight nurses working overseas may also treat soldiers who have been wounded on the battlefield. The common trait shared by all flight nurses is their ability to administer life-sustaining care in a pressurized environment. A cool head and the ability to perform under stress are essential qualities for these nurses.
In many cases, the flight nurse’s actions help save lives, and while it’s a stressful position, it’s also a very rewarding career. The rigorous training and experience requirements for this job, as well as the extreme work environment, also ensure that you’ll earn a high salary in the field. According to Payscale.com, the median salary for an entry-level flight nurse with full credentials is $61,938 per year. Additionally, jobs in the field should grow steadily in the future, as well: The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 17% increase in available nursing jobs through 2024.
What Does a Flight Nurse Do?
Perhaps the most visible part of the flight nurse’s job are the medical evacuations that treat trauma victims, commonly known as life flights. These patients have been injured so grievously that standard ground transportation may risk the patient’s life. Flight nurses stabilize these patients as much as possible, administering emergency care and preparing the patient for treatment. Duties range from basic first aid to starting IVs, administering medication, or performing advanced resuscitation techniques.
Patients in this scenario are often terrified or disoriented; fight nurses also soothe and reassure.
Another common scenario involves patient transfer between facilities. Patients might need to be moved to obtain lifesaving treatment that is unavailable at the original facility, or to relocate to another part of the country for other reasons. Secondary to patient comfort and safety, a flight nurse’s role is to liaise with medical professionals at the receiving facility, ensuring that all case notes and patient files are delivered into the right hands.
Flight nurses work on helicopters and fixed-wing aircrafts, including propeller and jet planes.
Potential Work Settings
- Hospitals and trauma centers
- Fire departments
- Independent medical evacuation or transportation companies
- Search and rescue organizations
- Hospital-based research facilities
- Federal, local or municipal government
- U.S. Military, stationed overseas
- U.S. Military reserves, domestic emergencies
What Does It Take to Become a Flight Nurse?
To effectively liaise with the medical team at the receiving facility, flight nurses must communicate crucial details about the patient’s history and current health. In the case of transports, flight nurses must deliver complete and accurate patient records into the right hands.
Most patients are in flight because their medical situation is dire. Flying is a frightening experience for many people and, when combined with a medical emergency, can be downright terrifying. Flight nurses must keep this in mind as they treat their patients in a loud, chaotic environment.
Delivering medical care onboard an aircraft can be challenging due to limited space. In the air, flight nurses are generally standing, crouching, or bending over to attend to the patient. Safe patient transport on and off the aircraft also requires considerable physical strength.
Flight nurses are highly trained in advanced lifesaving procedures, and must have the confidence to make quick decisions about treatment in the absence of an on-the-ground medical team.
Specialized training in flight nursing is required for this job. Outside of this credential, there are a number of advanced nursing specialty certifications that can benefit working flight nurses. Credentials in critical care nursing, emergency nursing, and cardiac life support are popular options.
Most employers require two to three years of nursing experience in a critical care, emergency, or intensive care environment prior to flight nursing.
While flight nurses are not expected to pilot the aircraft, a basic understanding of aircraft and aeronautical principle is helpful.
Flight Nurse Information and Job Outlook
- Median Hourly Wage: $29
- Median Salary: $61,938
Nurses are in Demand
- 712,000 New Jobs
- 495,500 Replacement Jobs
- 10.2 Million by 2020
- 26% More Nursing Jobs Expected to Be Created between 2010 and 2020
Source: Data taken from The Bureau of Labor Statistics. Accessed: December 2015.
Meet a Flight Nurse
Flight Nurse Resources
Certification Resources for Flight Nurses
Flight Nurse National Organizations
Online Flight Nurse Programs
While flight nursing is a highly specialized area of the field, there is no degree program specifically targeted toward the specialization. Most employers require at least a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN), although they are more likely to require the master of nursing (MSN) for this position. Depending on the credentials and their granting bodies, some certifications are only available after you have completed graduate study. Additionally, employers generally expect you to have accumulated one to three years of clinical experience in emergency, trauma, or critical care nursing.
Below, we’ve listed the online nursing programs that can lead to flight nurse certification. These schools are fully accredited, not-for-profit institutions; however, it’s important to note that not all online schools can say the same. When browsing an online program, always confirm the school’s accreditation status, business model, and reciprocity within your state.
- American Sentinel University – Online RN/BSN
- Arizona State University – Online RN/BSN
- Cedarville University – Online MSN
- Eastern Kentucky University – Online RN/BSN
- Frontier Nursing University – Online MSN Family Nurse Practitioner
- Jefferson College of Health Sciences – Online BSN: Post-Licensure Track
- Liberty University – Online RN/BSN
- Maryville University – Online MSN Family Nurse Practitioner
- Sacred Heart University – Online RN-MSN/BSN-MSN
- Simmons College – Online RN-MSN/BSN-MSN Family Nurse Practitioner
- University of Arizona – Online MSN
- University of Central Florida – Online MSN
- Ursuline College – Online RN/BSN
- Weber State University – Online MSN Family Nurse Practitioner
- Western Illinois University – Online RN/BSN
If you are an accredited, not-for-profit institution that offers an online flight nurse program and that isn’t listed, please contact us with details about your program, a link to your program page and proof of accreditation.
If you notice any errors in the database below or are a college or university that is not represented here, please contact us. We will get on it immediately!