A flight nurse (also known as aero-medical nurses) is a highly trained registered nurse who provides emergency medical care to all types of patient’s while they are being transferred to the hospital via aircraft.
Rescue operations and/or aero-medical evacuations may take place aboard various aircraft’s such as jet aircraft, propeller aircraft and/or helicopters.
During these situations an aero-medical nurse may be accompanied by an emergency medical crew or critical care air transport team to provide the patient(s) and on-board nurse with additional medical support and expertise, however in some cases these on-board nurses may also work alone on flights that do not require a medical team and/or additional medical support.
A medical support team may include various medical specialists such as flight paramedics, flight physicians (aka flight surgeons) and/or respiratory practitioners along with the primary aero-medical nurse, pilot & co pilot.
Aero-medical nurses are often used during rescue operations or on aero-medical evacuations when medical ground units (such as an ambulance) are unable to respond to a call or emergency within a respectable amount of time due to long travel distances.
They may also be used in situations where terrain, weather and/or other obstacles may make it difficult or impossible for ambulances and/or other ground vehicles to reach a patient or a group of patients in need of immediate emergency medical care such as after an earthquake, on icy terrain, in areas surrounded by mountains, hills, trees, and water or during times when a traffic jam may prevent an ambulance from gaining access to injured people involved in a major car accident.
Aero-medical nurses are in charge of providing in-flight management and medical care to all types of patients and play a primary role from the beginning of the evacuation until the patient reaches the hospital.
During aero medical evacuations these nurses are responsible for facilitating proper patient care and providing their patients with a comfortable experience while ultimately insuring their safety as they are being transferred to the hospital.
In addition to evacuating patients and providing them with a comfortable transport they will evaluate the individual needs of the patients on board, monitor their vital signs, provide patients with Intravenous therapy (IV’s), dress wounds, apply splints to broken and fractured bones, request the appropriate medications, supplies and equipment for each patient based on their medical needs and initiate emergency medical treatment to patients in the event that a flight physician is absent or unavailable.
In some cases they may also be responsible for the planning and preparation of aero-medical evacuation missions and will coordinate plans with the pilot and medical crew to expedite the process and ensure that proper procedures are being taken.
Requirements and certifications (Education and Training)
All aero-medical nurses have previous experience as registered nurses and have post-graduate training as emergency medical nurses and/or intensive care nurses.
In terms of flight preparation and training these nurses are experienced and trained in hemodynamic support (support of the movement of blood in the body), vasoactive medications (medication used to increase or decrease blood pressure and/or heart rate), mechanical ventilation (mechanically induced or forced breathing), and a variety of other skills related to intensive care, and are trained and certified in several other areas related to emergency care such as:
- Critical Care Registered Nursing
- Certified Emergency Nursing
- Certified Flight Registered Nursing
- Basic Life Support
- Advanced Cardiac Life Support
- Pediatric Advanced Life Support
- Pre-Hospital Trauma Life Support
- Neonatal Resuscitation
- CPR Certification
- EMS Certification/Licence
Additional training and certification courses potential flight nurses may (or may not) be required to take:
- Trauma Nurse Core Course
- Advanced Trauma Care for Nurses
- Advanced Trauma Life Support
- Commission on Accreditation of Medical Transport Systems
- Transport Nurse Advanced Trauma Course
- TNATC Advanced Provider Course
Hazardous Material Training:
- NIMS Training IS 100, 200, 700, 800
In order to qualify for a position as an aero-medical nurse registered nurses are not only required to have developed these skills and certifications, but in many cases registered nurses must generally have at least 5 years of experience working in a hospital or health care setting that specialize in intensive care.
Note: To find out what types of training and certifications may be required in order to get accepted for a position as an aero-medical nurse it is recommended that you contact several professional aero-medical nurses and hiring organizations in your area or the location you would like to work in so that you can get a good understanding of what types of training, education, experience and certifications these organizations require and are looking for when they are interested in hiring a potential nurses to operate on their plans.
You can also speak with your local hospital or the hospital you work for (assuming they have an aero-medical pre-hospital team) and consult the nurses working in that department or contact your human resources department for additional information and help.
Types of aero-medical transport nurses
There are two primary classifications or positions for registered nurses looking to obtain a position as an aero-medical nurse.
While both of these aero-medical nursing types perform many of the same medical tasks, treatments and procedures that are standard amongst all qualified aero-medical nurses the locations they work in, the application of the medical treatments they perform and the types of rescue operations they are involved in may vary dramatically because of varying roles, responsibilities and circumstances amongst the two classifications.
Civilian fight nurse
As the name suggests civilian flight nurses primarily operate work for local hospitals, the Government, Federal and State organizations, fire departments, private medical firms and a mixture of other private and Government agencies.
These nurses generally begin their nursing education at a local college or university where they enter a nursing program and study for several years to earn their bachelors of science in nursing degree and pass the national licensing exam.
From there they spend several more years working as registered nurses in an emergency or intensive care setting where they gain the knowledge, training and certifications they need in order to obtain a job in the aero-medical care field.
Military flight nurse
Military flight nurses work for the United States Military and are members of the aero-medical evacuation crew.
These nurses are responsible for the planning and preparation of aero-medical evacuation missions to ensure mission success and provide proper patients with proper medical care and comfortable environment while maintaining ultimate safety standards.
Military flight nurses may or may not operate in hostile environments where they are responsible for extracting patients and providing medical aid to wounded soldiers who are operating in the battlefield.
These nurses may also perform regular routine check ups and medical tests to ensure that soldiers aren’t suffering from any medical conditions/ailments and are able to operate in peak condition.
Why become an aero-medical nurse?
Becoming a Flight Nurse not only provides a great opportunity for career advancement and increased pay but also provides nurses with a deep sense of accomplishment and satisfaction in their career.
The internal rewards of playing a critical part in the safety and transportation of patients in need of emergency care is one that few people will ever have the opportunity to experience.
By working together with a small and often limited medical team where you need to consistently think on the fly and adapt to new environments and situations you’ll gain vital skills that go well beyond just helping sick patients.
As an aero-medical transport nurse the unexpected challenges you face on a daily basis help you acquire new skills, gain a new perspective on what it means to be a nurse and gives you the tools you need to become a better medical operator in all medical situations.
The skills, training, knowledge and experiences these nurses obtain in their careers will help provide them with the education they need to become effective and successful in all areas related to the medical field and will provide them with better opportunities for career advancement in the future.