Flight nursing, or any kind of critical care transport nursing, is a job that requires extensive knowledge and experience. These nurses are responsible for assessing the condition and needs of critically ill or wounded patients, and providing competent care for these patients while they are being transferred from the scene of an accident to the hospital. In some instances, patients are transferred from hospital emergency rooms that are not equipped to deal with the patient's level of trauma to a facility that can meet that patient's needs. However, in either case, the transport nurse is responsible for gathering appropriate and accurate information that can passed onto the receiving care team, and it is to be expected that the patient arrives in better, or at least the same, condition than when first picked up.
Due to the variety of skills needed when dealing with those who are critically ill or wounded, most critical care transport teams consist of pilots/drivers, paramedics, and nurses. Thus, paramedic training is not necessary for nurses who choose a career in transport or flight nursing. Critical care transport nurses are expected to bring extensive critical care nursing experience to the table, therefore, any nurse considering this career path should first pursue ICU training, certification, and experience. Most critical care transport companies, especially flight transport companies, will not even consider hiring a nurse with less than 3 years of intensive care/critical care experience. Many of the more reputable companies, particularly those that can offer better pay and benefits, will require 5 years of experience. The national average salary for flight nurses is $62,000 per year.
Obviously, this is not an entry-level job, or one that is suited to new graduates. The variety of situations a transport nurse encounters, and the critical nature of the patients' conditions, does not allow room for error. Thus, learning on-the-job is not an option. The only training that critical care transport companies expect a nurse to need is specific flight nursing or transport nursing protocol and safety policy training. Usually, companies prefer to offer this training themselves (and usually during a paid probationary period), so they can ensure the nurse is following the company's established policies and procedures, but previous flight or transport training or experience is always a plus.
However, there are some nursing schools that offer complete flight nursing or transport nursing training programs, although acceptance to these programs usually require 2 years of intensive/critical care experience. Even if you do not choose to complete a specific transport nursing training program, there are several regular nursing school courses you can take to increase your chances of success, and of gaining employment in this highly competitive career. Recommended courses include Basic Trauma Life Support, a Trauma Nurse core course, Basic and Advanced Cardiac Life Support, Critical Incident Stress Debriefing, and an Intensive/Critical Care core course. In addition, consider taking the Air-Medical Crew National Standard Curriculum.
In conclusion, a career in critical care transport or flight nursing is not something to be engaged in lightly, as the necessary education and experience takes years to complete. However, many transport nurses will tell you that, although it is one of the most difficult and intense nursing jobs out there, it is also one of the most extremely rewarding experiences they could ever have.