The Résumé Rx

How to Become a Flight Nurse and Salary Outlook

Amanda Guarniere

Have you ever wanted to go into an exciting career? Then this might be a wonderful opportunity for you. Want to become a flight nurse?

But what does the job entail? 

And you’re also probably wondering how much it pays.

In this article, you will learn how to become a flight nurse and its salary outlook.

What is a Flight Nurse?

Did you know patient care doesn’t only exist in hospitals or clinics?

They happen in airplanes too.

That’s right.

And this is where a flight nurse comes into the picture.

Simply put, this highly trained healthcare professional provides patient care while on board an aircraft.

A flight nurse is a nurse in the sky.

Because, sometimes, compromised patients need care while they are in transit, going to the hospital. 

Typically, these types of patients experienced significant trauma that needs immediate evacuation to a medical facility. 

And a flight nurse is a crucial member of that critical care team. 

An example of flight nurses are those in the military. Where soldiers are wounded on the battlefield, military flight nurses accompany them. These nurses provide life-sustaining care as they move patients away from high-pressure environments.

What Does a Flight Nurse Do?

You can see one in medical evacuation situations, which are commonly called life flights.

Because these critical ill or injured patients require immediate care, ground transportation may not be ideal. Any delay may risk their lives.

So the fastest way to bring these patients to a medical facility is air transportation.

With a flight nurse’s special training, he or she can stabilize these critical patients by ensuring they receive proper emergency care during transit. 

In the same way, there are some medical procedures that a flight nurse may provide to prepare the patients for hospital treatment.

For this reason, a flight nurse may start IVs, administer medication, or perform advanced resuscitation techniques in-flight.

Where Do Flight Nurses Work?

In addition to airplanes, a flight nurse works on helicopters, as in the case of military nurses.

Basically, a flight nurse provides critical care while on board fixed-wing aircrafts and jet planes.

Pros and Cons of Being a Flight Nurse

One of the benefits of working as a flight nurse is you get to be at the forefront in saving lives. Plus, you get to travel and explore exciting locations while stationed there temporarily.

At present, an entry-level flight nurse falls under the median pay grade. 

In addition, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects an increase in nursing jobs in the next 10 or so years. So there are plenty of opportunities if you’re considering this line of work.

On the other hand, it can be a high-pressure job. There is rigorous training required too to prepare you for extreme work conditions.

How to Become a Flight Nurse?

Because it is a specialized field in healthcare, to become a flight nurse, you need to undergo additional training.

First, you need to obtain a registered nursing license. This may require finishing a four-year bachelor’s degree in nursing. Alternatively, you may complete an associate degree, which typically runs for about two years.

Following the completion of this academic requirement, you need to pass the NCLEX-RN test. This regulatory test evaluates your knowledge and practical understanding of nursing.

You may need to check state law first to learn about the specific requirements for you to obtain a nursing licensure.

Once you pass the required academic and licensure requirements, you need to have at least three to five years of experience as a registered nurse. Then you can apply for a certification as an air transport or flight nurse.

As for becoming a military flight nurse, you need to undergo several weeks of specialized training.

How Long Does it Take to Become a Flight Nurse?

Essentially, you need to obtain your nursing education plus experience before you can become a full-fledged flight nurse.

Getting a nursing degree may run for about two years, if you choose the associate degree route. Typically, this includes foundational classes, covering the essentials of the course.

On the other hand, if you choose to get a bachelor’s degree, it will take about four years. It’s longer because this route covers more general education subjects. Plus, there are more specialized courses, which may not be available in an associate degree program.

In addition to the two or four years, you may also opt to proceed with a master’s degree. This entails another two years of advanced education and training. Getting an advanced degree can help improve your chances of success in the profession.

As an alternative to getting a master’s degree, there are accelerated programs that you can avail part time if you want to work while you study.

On top of the educational requirement, you should also build your experience as a nurse. 

It helps to have work experience in high-pressure environments like the ER or ICU. Typically, you need to have around three to five years of on-the-job training and practice here. The more experience, the better the chances of securing a high-paying job as a flight nurse.

Why Should You Be a Flight Nurse?

Despite the high-pressure nature of the job, there are instances that make the profession all worth it.

You fly into areas with limited resources; where life is tragic because people there don’t have ample facilities.

To be able to come to their rescue can be a rewarding experience. You get to save lives.

As a healthcare professional, there can be no greater accomplishment than knowing you made a significant difference in people’s lives.

Take These 5 Steps to Become a Flight Nurse

So you want to become a flight nurse?

Here are five steps to becoming one.

1. Earn Your Degree

To become a flight nurse, you need to earn your RN. But to do this, you have to finish a bachelor’s (or associate) degree program. Then take the NCLEX-RN exam.

2. Gain Professional Experience

Typically, working in an ER or ICU environment for three to five years will look good on your résumé. The more years on your belt, the better.

3. Learn the Basic Aspects of Flight and Navigation

As a flight nurse, you need to be somewhat familiar with flight and navigation. After all, that’s going to be a regular occurrence in your line of work.

4. Obtain Your Certification

In addition to passing the nursing degree program and NCLEX-RN, you need to get certified in other areas.

For one, there’s the certification for flight registered nurses. Securing this one is a great way to demonstrate your competence as a flight nurse. So if you have this in your credentials, you get an edge over the other job applicants.

5. Put Yourself Out There

Make yourself available to prospective employers because it can be a competitive job market out there. More importantly, it is a difficult field to enter into.

So make sure you get a well-rounded work experience then present yourself as a desirable candidate to prospective employers.

Flight Nurse Salary

Wondering what’s the average salary?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics database, the average yearly salary for the flight nurses is around $73,000.

On the other hand, ZipRecruiter also reports that the median salary is around $81,000.

Lastly, PayScale estimates it between $58,000 and $102,000. The more seasoned flight nurses, however, make upwards of $105,000 yearly.

Career Outlook for Flight Nurses

Landing a job as a flight nurse may be difficult. It is a very competitive field. But it’s not impossible.

So if you’re really interested in becoming a flight nurse, you need to gain enough experience. Be well-rounded and adept in emergency work.

Prospective employers would also want to look at how you are able to stay calm in high-pressure, chaotic situations. 

States Where Flight Nurses are in Demand

Did you know there are around 800 medical transport helicopters operating in the U.S.?

So if you’re looking for a job as a flight nurse, you can find these positions by checking out various hospitals and aviation companies.

Aside from the U.S., there are plenty of flight nurse programs in Europe, the Middle East, and Australia.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I become a plane nurse?

You need to earn your bachelor’s degree in nursing (or alternatively, an associate degree in nursing). In addition, you need to have work experience of at least three to five years.

How much does a high-paying flight nurse receive?

While the median salary range for flight nurses is between $58,000 and $102,000 yearly, the more credentialed ones get upwards of $105,000.

Is it hard to become a flight nurse?

It can be challenging. There’s the education requirement. Then you need to pass the board exam (NCLEX-RN). Lastly, work experience is also a requirement.

What kind of shifts do flight nurses work?

Flight nurses typically work 24-hour shifts, working between six and eight shifts each month. However, this depends on the employer.

Is this line of work dangerous?

There may be risks involved. For one, the aircraft could crash. There is also exposure to harsh climate conditions. Military flight nurses, in particular, are exposed to greater hazards.


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