What is a flight nurse?
A flight nurse is one of the crucial providers of health care in emergency flight transportation. Flight nurses usually work with one teammate to bring patients directly from their crisis to the hospital and do all of the heavy lifting in between. Flight nurses can either ride in helicopters or small fixed-wing planes.
Flight nursing has been said to be the last frontier for nurses trying to expand their career skills. It’s for those who perform great under pressure and are want to make even more a difference. Since air transport is only utilized in emergency situations, flight nurses often work with patients during the single worst day in their lives like car crashes, rock climbing accidents, and cardiac arrests.
What do I need to become a flight nurse?
- Nurses that go into flight nursing have to have a spark and a half – You have to have been in plenty of time pressure situations in an ICU, ER, or Critical Care Unit, preferably years in all three. Experience and knowledge in neonatal, through pediatrics, to adult health is crucial as you have to be ready for any patient. Experience in OBGYN can also be very helpful.
- All of your certifications – ACLS, BLS, PALs, TNCC ATLS, NRP. If you or your partner don’t know something, you’re out of luck as you won’t have cell service at high altitudes.
- Physical fitness and conditioning – There is a physical fitness test. You might have to show up to a gym and lift weights, do some cardio and whatever other exercises the physical therapist deem relevant. As a flight nurse, you have to be able to lift a certain amount of weight because you’ll have to lift the stretcher onto the plane or helicopter. In the ICU it doesn’t matter because you can have 8 people help you, but on the plane, you’d be lucky if the pilot could help you.
- You have to be a team player – There is no calling in sick and 100% effort is required every single time you go out as things can always go wrong. You’ll always need all-hands-on-deck. There are no excuses.
- Flexibility – You do 24-hour shifts. Sometimes you don’t get a call, sometimes you work 24 hours straight. You don’t know what you’re going to get. If you have other commitments like school, another job, a spouse, or kids it can be really tough. You will never know what your schedule is going to be like.
What is the schedule of a flight nurse?
The shifts are 24 hours and there is no standard schedule. Sometimes you’re in transportation for 24 hours and sometimes you don’t fly at all through the course of 1 day. No matter what, you have to be ready to go. Like firefighters, when you get the call you go.
Flight nursing isn’t something that you can turn on or off. It’s who you are. Whenever a helicopter is involved, it’s something serious. In those difficult situations, you’ll learn a lot about yourself: like how you respond to stress and anxiety, whether or not you’re claustrophobic, how well you work with your team in pressure situations. The speed to the healthcare facility can be the determining factor in a life or death situation. That’s the schedule that matters.
How is flight nursing most different from nursing a hospital setting?
First, you’re in the air in very tight quarters with one extra hand to help you out. The helicopter is essentially a mobile ICU. In the air, the biggest difference is that flight nurses don’t have the resources that staff nurses have in a hospital. If you don’t know something, you ask your partner and if they don’t know, they’ll ask you back. There are some planes that can fit 3, but those aren’t as common as flight nurses usually work in pairs, with either another nurse or a paramedic.
You’re not in a hospital. You can’t hook up a tube to the wall for oxygen, you have no powered suction mechanisms like in the ICU. You won’t be able to stand up and there will be no extra pair of hands. During a flight, the body goes through hemodynamic changes when ascending to 35,000 feet you’ll need to be ready for anything without having access to the internet. You better know your stuff.
Pros of being a flight nurse
- If you want to build legendary connections with like-minded team players, emergency transport is riddled with active and inactive military veterans and has the familial camaraderie to match.
- You’ll wear a military-style flight suit and strut into the Emergency department like a special agent in your military style suit.
- If you’re looking for expanding your skills in pressure situations, flight nursing will prepare you for just about everything.
- Adrenaline junkies need to look no further. With the combination of take-off, landing, assessing emergency situations, finding crucial solutions, and seeing those solutions through, flight nurses can go through an entire life of emotion in one transport.
- Flight nurses save lives daily. Flight nurses are the ones that need to determine what a patient needs and which hospital they go to. There’s a very human side to taking care of someone during the worst day in their lives.
Cons of being a flight nurse
- If you’re a student, or you have a job, spouse, or children the schedule of a flight nurse might not be ideal for you. When you’re on shift, you have to be ready to go anywhere at a moment’s notice.
- You do have to lift the patients onto the stretcher and get them onto the plane/helicopter. Even if the patient is over 300 pounds, you have to be able to lift them with one additional teammate.
- You may be bumping up and down through turbulence with a patient in cardiac arrest that needs their dopamine in the IV pump. Time is usually of the essence so there are no emergency landings.
- While accidents in air travel are rare, there are extremely high consequences when things do go wrong.
- If you’re uncomfortable with letting family members know about bad news this isn’t the field for you.