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April 10, 2020

Nursing & Healthcare

How to become a flight nurse: duties and outlook.

Medical helicopter

What is a flight nurse?

Planes, helicopters, or jets. All of these flight options are used by medical professionals to get transport patients to a nearby hospital for care. Aircrafts are often used in emergency situations to get patients to the best hospital as quickly as possible. And who is up in the air, taking care of patients as they quickly fly to the best care facility? Flight nurses.

Registered nurses who are looking for a unique and exciting environment may find a passion for becoming a flight nurse. Sometimes called an aircraft, helicopter, or transport nurse, flight nurses have many of the same responsibilities as registered nurses, but take it to a new level as they deal with offbeat and interesting patients from the air.

What do flight nurses do?

Flight nurses take the responsibilities of an RN to new heights—literally. They are the ones on board the jet or helicopter, taking care of patients as they fly. Flight nurses are responsible for checking vitals, keeping records, administering medication, performing medical procedures, and more. Often aircrafts will have flight physicians that nurses assist in caring for patients, but in the event that there is no flight physician on board, a flight nurse takes charge. Flight paramedics may help flight nurses in their work in caring for patients while they are on the aircraft.

Flight nurses are also in charge of working with the medical crews on the ground so that everyone is on the same page when it comes to care. They are usually in constant communication with the ground crews to ensure that when they land, the patient can be immediately transferred to their care. 

Flight nurses also have to ensure that there is proper medical equipment ready to take care of the patient onboard the plane or helicopter. Flight nurses are responsible for many of the same things that emergency nurses are responsible for, but there is an added factor of increased time pressure, more emergent situations, and air travel involved for a flight nurse. 

A nurse stands next to a medical helicopter, ready to help.

Flight nurse requirements.

The educational requirements for flight nurses begin with becoming an RN. WGU offers a prelicensure nursing degree that gives students the chance to get their RN and BSN at the same time. Becoming an RN is the crucial first step to becoming a flight nurse, as flight nurses require licensure in order to qualify for flight jobs.

The exact skills that flight nurses need will vary largely on the type of nurse they want to become, where they will work, etc. There are additional skills and educational requirements for those who want to become flight nurses including:


  • Neonatal resuscitation

  • Pediatric advanced life support

  • Advanced cardiac life support

  • Prehospital trauma life support

  • Ventilator training

  • Experience with overnight and on-call rotations

  • Trauma and critical care experience

  • Strong leadership particularly in stressful situations

  • Strong communication in all types of environments

  • Flight experience can be beneficial

Flight nurses have unique requirements for their job that many nurses do not share. While emergency nurses work with the same kind of patients, flight nurses have the added stress of emergency transportation situations.


Flight nurses must start by becoming registered nurses. While you don’t have to get a degree to do this, most hospitals are hoping to get magnet status which involves having nurses that are licensed AND have a bachelor’s degree. Getting a bachelor’s degree in nursing is a great way to make yourself more competitive for nursing jobs in a hospital. Similarly, a master’s degree in nursing can give you that additional edge over competition, and help you be qualified and credentialed for raises and promotions in a hospital or clinic. Flight nurse hopefuls may find that a bachelor’s or master’s degree helps them be more qualified and competitive for transport nursing positions. 


Generally, an air transport nurse must have a minimum of 5 years working in an ICU, ER, or critical care hospital setting. This critical care and trauma experience is vital to helping nurses be prepared for the emergency situations and critical patients they will encounter as a flight nurse. Flight nurses usually must have the following certifications as well:

  • Certified Flight Registered Nurse (CFRN)

  • Basic Life Support (BLS)

  • Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS)

  • Pediatric Advanced Life Support (PALS)

  • Transport Professional Advanced Trauma Course (TPATC)

  • Certified Emergency Nurse (CEN) or Critical Care Nurse (CCRN) until the CFRN certification is completed

These certifications are vital in demonstrating that nurses have the techniques mastered that they will face daily as a flight nurse. In an emergency transport situation, patients need nurses that are qualified and know how to react. 

Flight nurses may also need some on-the-job training based on where they will be working to help them understand the aircraft, the type of patients they will service, and more.

Wing of airplane - travel nurse

Types of flight nurse jobs.

Different types of flight nursing job tend to be similar, but there is one important decision flight nurses need to make in regards to their career. Flight nurses have the option to choose a civilian or military career path, and those type of career positions are considerably different.

Civilian. Civilian flight nurses typically work for public or private hospitals or clinics. They often are part of Life Flight and other transport operations to move patients to a better facility for their care. This can involve transporting newborn babies to a different hospital, moving patients from emergency situations to a hospital, transferring patients to a new location, working with organ donation, and more.

Military. Military flight nursing involves nurses who are enlisted in the Air Force. Their role is to give nursing care to military members while transporting them to a different location. This may be transporting them away from a dangerous situation to a field hospital, transferring them to a new location that is better equipped to care for them, and more. Military flight nurses Work specifically with military members who often have battle injuries, and the care they give is vastly different than civilian flight nurses.

Military and civilian nurses will have different salary levels and benefits as well, which is an important factor when you're considering which route you'd like to take.

Flight nurse job outlook.

Flight nursing is a very unique profession with a unique work environment and job outlook. 

  • Work environment. The work environment for flight nurses can vary, and is extremely unique. Flight nurses may be employed by hospitals or trauma centers, or may be employed by fire stations or search and rescue operations. Flight nurses will have an office or clinic that is their base, and then will go up into the helicopter or airplane to do their work. Flight nursing is extremely stressful but extremely rewarding. Flight nurses may be expected to work all hours, every day of the week, on holidays, and for long shifts. Flight nurses also almost exclusively deal with emergency situations which can be draining. But flight nurses are vital to a well functioning healthcare system, and the care they provide is irreplaceable. 
  • Salary. Flight nurses make an average annual salary of $65,000 per year. This salary level vary greatly based on the location where you work, the kind of flight nurse you are, and the level of education that you have. If you have a bachelor’s or master’s degree, you may be eligible for promotions and raises in the flight nursing field, upping your salary and giving you more options in the field. 
  • Job market. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that there will be a 15% growth in flight nurse jobs by 2026. There is a nursing shortage around the United States, and that includes flight nurses. Hospitals, clinics, and other medical facilities are all needing more registered nurses to care for patients in a productive and efficient way. If you’re considering becoming a flight nurse, now is a great time to get started on the path.

Flight nurses are vital members of a healthcare team and their work ensures that patients all around the country can be transported to the best hospital for their care. If you are ready to get started on the path to this exciting career, WGU can be the perfect place to help you get the credentials you need to succeed.

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