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Ask a Nurse: How Do I Become a Flight Nurse?

| Nicole Galan, RN, MSN

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Question: What qualifications or certifications do I need to become a flight nurse?
Answer: One amazing thing about a nursing career is the wide variety of specialties in which nurses can practice, including traditional hospital nursing, infertility nursing, and corrections nursing. One highly specialized and technical option is a flight nurse or transport nurse. Truth be told, I'm so grateful that there are nurses out there who strive to do this amazing work, because personally, I'm not at my best while up in the air. So, what exactly is a flight nurse, and how do you become one? Flight nurses are registered nurses (RNs) who undergo specialty training to provide critical care as they transport patients on an aircraft, usually in a helicopter or plane. Their primary role is to work with other healthcare professionals to transport critically injured or sick patients to trauma centers or other healthcare facilities. However, in addition to the actual clinical care provided to patients, flight nurses may also be expected to regularly inspect and maintain equipment or medication (as appropriate within their scope of practice) and clean equipment or patient care areas. There may be extended periods of time spent waiting for calls to come in. Nurses must possess a unique set of skills to become successful flight nurses. They must be the following:
  • Calm under pressure
  • Highly skilled and knowledgeable
  • Able to think critically
  • Comfortable working in small spaces
  • Comfortable working in potentially turbulent conditions
  • Able to work autonomously
If this sounds like you, know that this field is very competitive yet extremely rewarding for nurses who break into the field. To become a flight nurse, you'll first need to earn your RN license by attending (and passing) a qualified nursing program, taking the licensure examination, and applying for licensure from your state board of nursing. Prospective flight nurses must have at least 3-5 years of clinical experience, ideally in the intensive care unit (ICU) or emergency room (ER). This crucial experience trains you to work autonomously, care for the most critical patients, and improve critical thinking skills — all of which are important when working as a flight nurse. Once you have some experience and are ready to pursue a flight nursing career, you can obtain certification as a certified flight registered nurse (CFRN) from the Board of Certification for Emergency Nursing (BCEN). This process requires a registration fee, passing the certification exam, and recertifying periodically. Flight nurses also have to hold certifications in basic life support, advanced cardiac life support, pediatric advanced life support, and the transport professional advanced trauma course. Once you have your certification, you can pursue employment in many places:
  • Hospitals and trauma centers
  • Fire departments
  • Private medical transportation companies
  • Search-and-rescue organizations
  • The U.S. military
Aspiring flight nurses have a long road in front of them, but this is an incredibly rewarding career option for those who choose it. You got this!

In Summary:

  • You'll need at least 3-5 years of ICU or ER experience as a nurse before becoming a flight nurse.
  • Flight nurses must be able to think critically, practice autonomously, and remain calm in stressful situations.
  • Interested nurses can apply for certification as CFRNs from BCEN.
Portrait of <strong>Written by:</strong> Nicole Galan, RN, MSN

Written by: Nicole Galan, RN, MSN

Nicole Galan, RN, MSN is an RN who started on a general medical/surgical care unit and then moved to infertility care, where she worked for almost 10 years. Galan has also worked for over 13 years as a freelance writer specializing in consumer health sites and educational materials for nursing students. She currently works as a full-time freelancer and recently earned her master's degree in nursing education from Capella University.

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