How to Become a Critical Care Transport Nurse

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Published January 3, 2023

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Critical care transport nurses care for patients en route to a treatment center. Learn how to become a critical care transport nurse for an exciting and rewarding career.
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Medical professionals transporting patient on stretcher outside Credit: Caiaimage/Robert Daly / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Critical care transport nurses care for patients as they are being taken to a treatment center. This work is demanding and can be stressful, but it is also personally and financially rewarding. This guide explains how to become a critical care transport nurse and what the work is like.

Explore more about this exciting career, including the required education, expected experience, and what the work is like.

How Long to Become:
2-6 years

Degree Required:
ADN or BSN

Certification:
Advanced Life Support, Certified Transport Registered Nurse, Certification Recommended

What Is a Critical Care Transport Nurse?

Critical care transport nurses assess and stabilize patients who are being taken to critical care. During transportation to critical care, they monitor patients and work with other emergency and transportation personnel. They might work in ambulances, medical evacuation vehicles, and helicopters and airplanes for civilian and military emergency care.

Steps to Becoming a Critical Care Transport Nurse

You must first earn a nursing license to become a registered nurse (RN) and then earn critical care experience.

  1. 1

    Earn an associate degree in nursing (ADN) or a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) degree from an accredited program.

    The first step in licensing is earning a nursing degree. You can earn either an ADN or a BSN. The ADN takes two years compared to four years for the BSN, but employers may prefer BSN graduates.

    Some nurses earn an ADN, gain experience. and then later enroll in an RN-to-BSN degree program, which typically takes one year.

  2. 2

    Pass the NCLEX exam to receive RN licensure.

    The next step in how to become a critical care transport nurse is to pass the National Council Licensure Examination for RNs (NCLEX-RN). This multihour multiple-choice examination covers every aspect of nursing, including nursing practice, communications, and legal and ethical aspects of nursing. After this, you are an RN.

  3. 3

    Earn your advanced life support certification.

    Because you will be working with emergency patients, earning advanced life support certification (ALS) is a vital part of how to become a critical care transport nurse. This training, also known as advanced cardiovascular life support (ACLS), is for healthcare professionals who are already proficient in basic life support (BLS). The American Red Cross and American Heart Association are the primary providers.

  4. 4

    Gain experience in emergency, med-surg, or critical care nursing.

    You can work in any number of settings to learn how to become a critical care transport nurse with real-world experience. You can work in an emergency department, a surgery department, or in another critical care nursing facility.

  5. 5

    Consider becoming a certified transport registered nurse.

    Certification is not legally required to work as a critical care transport nurse the way that an RN license is, but many employers require or strongly prefer it. Certified transport registered nurse (CTRN) certification demonstrates your commitment and knowledge in this field.

    The Board of Certification for Emergency Nursing recommends but does not require at least two years of experience before applying.

Featured Online RN-to-BSN Programs

Critical Care Transport Nurse Education

This section explains how to become a critical care transport nurse as quickly as possible and other routes. You can complete your ADN and certification in just two years, though many employers want emergency and critical care experience because of the high level of responsibility.

ADN Degree


An ADN takes two years, compared to four years for a BSN, so it is an advantage if you want to earn your license as quickly as possible. Many community colleges offer this degree; tuition is generally more affordable than a BSN. However, employers may require or prefer a BSN for more advanced positions.

  • Admission Requirements

    High school diploma or GED certificate
  • Program Curriculum

    Practical nursing skills, including patient assessment and monitoring; using medical equipment; communication; legal and ethical aspects of nursing
  • Time to Complete

    Typically two years
  • Skills Learned

    Monitor and assess patients' conditions; administer prescribed treatments; educate patients and families; update medical records

BSN Degree


A BSN degree takes four years and includes more advanced courses than the ADN, like nurse leadership and nursing theory. It also prepares students to earn a master's in nursing to become an advanced practice registered nurse or earn a doctorate.

  • Admission Requirements

    High school diploma or GED certificate; typically a 3.0 GPA; references; math and science courses
  • Program Curriculum

    Theory and history of nursing; practical nursing skills, including patient assessment and monitoring; using medical equipment; communication; legal and ethical aspects of nursing; public health; nurse leadership; nurse informatics
  • Time to Complete

    Typically four years
  • Skills Learned

    Monitor and assess patients' conditions; administer prescribed treatments; educate patients and families; update medical records; identify and apply evidence-based practices; how to lead a nursing team

Critical Care Transport Nurse Licensure and Certification

You must have a current RN license to work as a critical care transport nurse. To maintain your license, you may not have any serious disciplinary infractions and participate in ongoing professional education. You can do this by attending pre-approved conferences, webinars, or classes or by completing approved reading and taking a test.

You must be able to provide life support to patients during transportation. You should have both BLS and ALS certification, also known as ACLS. Once you have completed these, you can earn pediatric advanced life support (PALS), which many employers require or strongly prefer.

You can also earn specialized certification as a certified transport registered nurse (CTRN). While the Board of Certification for Emergency Nursing requires only an RN license, it recommends that you have at least two years of experience in critical care. You can earn certification by applying online, paying the fees and scheduling an examination, and then taking the examination in person or online.

Certification in critical care or trauma nursing can also be valuable.

Working as a Critical Care Transport Nurse

Most employers prefer or require experience in critical care before becoming a critical care transport nurse because critical care transport nursing is especially demanding. Many critical care transport nurses gain this experience in emergency departments or other critical care settings.

Critical care transport nurses are in high demand in the military, as well as hospitals and health centers. They may also work for private companies that provide medical evacuation services.

There is not enough data to separate critical care transport nurse salaries from other critical care nurse salaries, but the December 2022 data from Payscale is at least indicative despite its small sample size. The average salary is $79,480 annually, and the top 10% earn $124,000 or higher.

Frequently Asked Questions About Becoming a Critical Care Transport Nurse

What certifications does a critical care transport nurse need?

You must have an RN license and BLS and ALS certifications. Many employers require or prefer PALS and CTRN certification too. Other options include trauma nursing certification or critical care nurse certification.

How long does it take to be a critical care transport nurse?

It takes at least two years to earn an RN license. You can earn BLS, ALS, and CTRN certification once you have your RN license. However, most employers require or prefer critical care nursing experience before working in critical care transport nursing.

Who do critical care transport nurses work with?

Critical care transport nurses work with paramedics, emergency medical technicians, and nurse practitioners or physicians. Not all calls or settings include nurse practitioners or physicians during transportation. This is more common in military or emergency response teams.

What are some key traits for critical care transport nurses?

Critical care transport nurses must be calm under pressure, detail-oriented, and able to maintain their composure under heavy stress. Because critical care transport nurses work in emergency situations, they must also be able to work independently with limited resources.


Related Pages


Page last reviewed December 13, 2022

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