What Does a Flight Nurse Do?

Flight nurses are registered nurses who work for air ambulance and medical transport services. They provide health monitoring and emergency care while patients are in transit to a medical facility by helicopter, plane or ground ambulance. Flight nurses are also part of our nation’s military, caring for soldiers around the globe, even while under enemy fire.

Some duties of those working in this specialty area are the same as those for many RNs on the ground. Flight nurses perform patient assessment and monitoring, communicate with physicians, nurses, and other health care personnel, and provide essential care. The main difference is that flight nurses must also be experienced in emergency medicine, including patient stabilization and life support. This is due to the fact that they work with a high number of trauma and critical care patients.

What Are the Requirements to Be a Flight Nurse?

Experience and certifications needed to be a flight nurse vary by state, but a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) is the typical educational requirement. According to the Air & Surface Transport Nurses Association, the profile of a flight nurse typically includes:

  • An active RN license.
  • 2-3 years of critical or acute care experience.
  • Basic Cardiovascular Life Support certificate.
  • Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support certificate.
  • Pediatric Advanced Life Support certificate.
  • Neonatal Resuscitation Support certificate.

Employers may also require the following upon hire, or within the first 6-12 months of employment:

  • Certified Flight Registered Nurse credential.
  • Critical Care Registered Nurse credential.
  • Certified Emergency Nurse credential.
  • EMT or Paramedic certification.
  • Transport Nurse Advanced Trauma Course.
  • Basic Trauma Life Support certificate.
  • Pre-Hospital Trauma Life Support certificate.
  • Trauma Nurse Core Curriculum.

Flight nurses must be able to pass a drug screen as well (on hire and at regular intervals), and meet weight requirements for the type of air craft in which they work.

What Types of Patients do Flight Nurses See?

Approximately 550,000 people in the United States alone require standard or emergency medical transport by air each year. Here are some examples of common patient scenarios a flight nurse may encounter:

  • A severely injured person at an accident scene must get to a hospital faster than a ground ambulance can take them, due to traffic or the severity of their condition.
  • A critically ill person in a remote area with no ambulance service must be moved to an intensive care unit in a major city.
  • An accident victim in a rural town served only by a critical access hospital must be moved to a larger hospital with a trauma center.
  • A sick or injured person must be evacuated from a disaster area where roads are not accessible.
  • A sick or injured person must be airlifted from complex terrain such as a desert or mountain, or out of a dangerous area such as an avalanche zone.
  • A newborn or burn victim in dire condition must be transported to a hospital providing the specialized care they require.
  • A medically fragile patient must be transported from one hospital to another, whether in the same city or state, or another state.

Patients and their care teams rely on flight nurses to remain calm in chaotic situations, and carry out their duties just as they would in a traditional healthcare setting. Nurses who work in pressurized airplane cabins or in open-air helicopter transports must be able to make quick decisions, and most flight nurses will have to adjust to the unpredictable aircraft movement that bouts of turbulence or extreme weather can bring.

Because they spend so many of their working hours in the air and in potentially dangerous situations on the ground, flight nurses must also be comfortable with the risks involved in this area of health care.

What Is a Flight Nurse’s Schedule and Salary?

The average salary for a flight nurse is $65,976, but pay can increase significantly based on location, job title and qualifications. Highly credentialed and experienced flight nurses can earn $100,000 or more.

The varied nature of a flight nurse’s day means he or she must also be highly adaptable. These RNs work on-call shifts from 12-24 hours in length, and if they are not standing by at their takeoff location, they must be able to get there within an hour of receiving a call. Flight nurses usually work a minimum of seven on-call shifts per month, averaging two per week.

This exciting and challenging career for RNs with a BSN degree can also involve lots of downtime between calls, but flight nurses understand how vital their work is. They provide a unique form of lifesaving care to patients, and a valuable service to their community.

Learn more about the UL Lafayette online RN to BSN program.


The Association of Air Medical Services

Board of Certification for Emergency Nursing

Air & Surface Transport Nurses Association

Mayo Clinic: Flight Nurse

KSMU: A Day in the Life of a Flight Paramedic and Nurse

Salary.com: Staff Nurse – RN – Flight Transport Salaries

Glassdoor: Flight Nurse Salaries

Nursing.org: Flight Nurse

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