How to Become a Flight Nurse

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If you’re curious about how to become a flight nurse, you should start with researching nursing degree programs. After earning a nursing degree, you’ll need to pass the licensure exam and gain at least a few years of clinical experience. Other flight nurse requirements can include additional nursing certifications.

Medavac nurses transporting patient

One major perk of pursuing a career in nursing is the many different options for specializing. For example, you can become a flight nurse — a registered nurse (RN) who provides life-saving care to critically ill or injured patients aboard medical evacuation flights. What’s the process of how to become a flight nurse, and how long does it take to become a flight nurse? You can learn all about the flight nurse requirements here.

If you like the idea of saving others as your life’s work, you might consider switching careers to nursing. Averett University facilitates second-degree nursing education with our Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN) program. You could graduate with your BSN in as few as 16 months.

What Is a Flight Nurse?

When someone suffers a medical emergency, they are often taken to the hospital via an ambulance. However, in some situations, it’s not logistically possible to transport patients on the ground, or patients might not reach the hospital quickly enough. In these cases, emergency responders may call for a medical evacuation (medevac) flight instead.

A medevac can get patients to the most appropriate medical facility much faster than a ground ambulance. In addition, patients can receive stabilizing, life-sustaining medical care on board these flights, delivered by specially trained flight nurses.

A flight nurse is a registered nurse whose mission is to give patients the support they need while in transit. In addition to working on high-risk trauma patients, a flight nurse may also provide care to patients being transported from one medical facility to another and patients involved with time-sensitive organ donation.

A flight nurse’s job duties generally include:

  • Securing the patient aboard the flight
  • Quickly assessing the patient’s condition
  • Administering medications
  • Starting intravenous (IV) lines
  • Performing advanced resuscitation techniques
  • Preparing the patient for life-saving treatment at the medical facility
  • Keeping the patient calm, conscious and as comfortable as possible

Flight nurses can work on all types of aircraft — both helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft. They may be civilians or they may serve in the military.

How to Become a Flight Nurse: 4 Steps

Now that you know the answer to the question, “What is a flight nurse, and what do they do?” you may wonder, “How long does it take to become a flight nurse?” The length of time will vary, depending on individual factors and employer requirements.

In general, if you meet the admissions requirements for an ABSN program, you can graduate in as few as 16 months, not including the time it may take to complete prerequisites. After you become an RN, you’ll also need a few years of clinical experience at the bedside before you can pursue a career in flight nursing. Let’s take a closer look at how to become a flight nurse.

close up of nurse using a test tube

In addition to becoming a flight nurse, there are lots of other career possibilities. Explore 10 alternative careers for nurses away from the bedside!

1. Earn a Nursing Degree

The first step toward meeting the flight nurse requirements is to earn a nursing degree. If you already have a bachelor’s degree or at least 60 non-nursing college credits, you may qualify to apply to the ABSN program at Averett. Our ABSN program can speed up your nursing education while preserving the quality of instruction. You may need to complete prerequisites in subjects such as microbiology and developmental psychology before beginning the 16-month ABSN program.

Averett ABSN student working with sim manikin

Once you begin the program, you’ll work through online nursing coursework to learn core nursing concepts. Then, in onsite nursing skills labs and nursing simulation labs, you’ll develop hands-on nursing skills using realistic medical manikins. You’ll also work through patient case scenarios to develop clinical judgment.

The final component of the nursing degree program is clinical rotations. You’ll be placed in medical facilities where you’ll provide direct patient care under the watchful supervision of your preceptor. Clinicals allow you to apply what you’ve learned and develop patient interaction skills.

2. Pass the NCLEX-RN and Obtain Licensure

After earning your BSN, you’ll be eligible to sit for the NCLEX-RN, the national licensure exam all aspiring RNs must pass. The NCLEX is challenging, and you’ll need solid clinical knowledge. However, the exam doesn’t test rote memorization alone.

Instead, the exam tests a nurse candidate’s ability to accurately assess a patient scenario and identify the most appropriate, evidence-supported clinical response. In other words, you’ll also need strong analytical reasoning and critical thinking skills to ace the exam.

After passing the NCLEX, you can apply for state licensure. Once you receive your nursing license, you’ll officially be an RN, ready to pursue your first nursing job.

Averett ABSN student studying at table

3. Gain Clinical Experience

Your first nursing job won’t be aboard a medevac flight. An aspiring flight nurse will first need at least a few years of clinical experience at a medical facility or doctor’s office before they can qualify for a flight nursing position. Because flight nursing is a high-pressure environment, it’s best to pursue your first nursing job in a similarly high-pressure setting. For example, you might apply for jobs in an emergency room, critical care unit or intensive care unit (ICU).

Remember that a nurse’s education is never complete. It’s imperative to keep an open mind and actively seek learning opportunities during your first few years on the job. Solicit feedback from the charge nurse and make an effort to broaden your nursing education, such as reading medical journals. You also must complete continuing education courses to keep your nursing license active.

If flight nursing sounds appealing, you might also consider travel nursing. Learn how to become a travel nurse in four steps!

Averett ABSN student walking outside with backpack

4. Obtain Additional Nursing Certifications

After you’ve gained some clinical experience, you may pursue nursing certifications that can bolster your credentials as an aspiring flight nurse. All nurses can benefit from having Basic Life Support (BLS) and Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS) certifications. A flight nurse may also want to pursue the Certified Flight Registered Nurse (CFRN) certification and the Transport Professional Advanced Trauma Course (TPATC).

The TPATC learning experience, available from the Air & Surface Transport Nurses Association (ASTNA), is a two-day course that teaches nursing knowledge and skills in managing patient transport, high-risk patients and multiple trauma patients.

The CFRN certification, administered by the Board of Certification for Emergency Nursing (BCEN), requires candidates to hold a nursing license before sitting for the exam. BCEN recommends having at least two years of clinical experience before attempting the exam, although this may not be a strict requirement.

Holding these credentials can enhance your nursing qualifications. Once you’re ready, you can apply for your first flight nursing job. Many healthcare and related organizations hire flight nurses, including hospitals, trauma centers, independent medevac companies and fire departments.

Averett ABSN student outside walking

Additional Flight Nurse Requirements

In addition to the academic requirements, clinical experience and nursing certifications, it’s helpful to cultivate specific characteristics and traits that benefit flight nurses. These traits include:

  • The ability to stay calm in high-pressure situations
  • Quick reaction time using excellent problem-solving skills
  • Clear communication
  • Physical stamina
  • Empathy and compassion

Soar to New Heights With Averett!

When you choose the ABSN program at Averett, you’ll develop a firm foundation of nursing competencies that will serve you well, no matter your nursing specialty. Contact Averett today, and you’ll be assigned a dedicated admissions counselor to help you navigate each step of the admissions process.