Flight Nursing: Do You Have What It Takes?

This is a guest post by Nurse Cody. He has been a nurse for over 7 years and working as a flight nurse for 4 years. He lives and works just outside of St. Louis, MO. He attended Jefferson College and Central Methodist University. Nurse Cody has his BSN and the following certifications: CEN, BLS, ACLS, PALS, PHTLS (pre-hospital trauma life support), and TNCC (trauma nursing core course).

Steps To Becoming A Flight Nurse

1. Start working in a busy ER/ICU

Most companies will require 3-5 years of recent experience in one or both of these fields. I suggest starting with the ER because you will see a wider variety of patients and learn to multitask in an ever changing environment. Plus, I have seen both ER and ICU nurses in this field and the ER nurses tend to adapt to the change of EMS better.  Don’t shy away from critical patients while working in the hospital, experience is your best teacher! Jump in and learn!

2. Work towards an advanced certification

Most companies will require you to have your CEN, CFRN or CCRN by the first year of flight employment. Getting these prior to applying will only make you more enticing to employers! These are like a second set of boards on steroids. They are severely focused on your field of practice. Be ready to hit those books again!

  • CEN- Certified Emergency Nurse
  • CFRN- Certified Flight Registered Nurse
  • CCRN- Critical Care Registered Nurse

*Some states require EMT certification and experience prior to becoming a flight nurse. Check on the requirements for your state.

3. Network!

EMS is a relatively small field,  and HEMS (Helicopter Emergency Medical Services) is even smaller.  While working in the ER/ICU, do your best to make contacts in HEMS. Schedule ride alongs, get your name out there in the community to show that you have goals!

5 Things To Know About Flight Nursing

1. 24 hour shifts

I hear it all the time “You get to sleep at work?! AWESOME!” Don’t get me wrong, I have taken some pretty epic paid snoozes. You also have to be ready to be going out the door at any moment. Don’t worry about bed head though, your helmet will make some pretty interesting hair styles on its own.

2. Partners

Working in the hospital you learn a pecking order. Out in the field it is you and your partner. There is no rank to pull so we have to be excellent at communicating what we are thinking about our patient.

3. Everyone will think you are a pilot

If you go ANYWHERE in public in your suit that isn’t work, I can assure people will ask if you “fly that plane”. And when you say no, they mostly will become disinterested. Don’t be discouraged. They don’t understand all the cool and challenging things you do!

4. Food!

Eat when you can, where you can. You never know when you will get back to back flights. Most flights from start to finish are anywhere between 3-5 hours. So chipmunk snacks away in your suit or aircraft. Your future hungry self will thank you.

5. Commute

Almost all aircraft are stationed in rural areas. We do this because these are the areas that don’t have ready access to large medical facilities. So be ready to commute if you don’t live in the area of your base. It’s ok though, we only work two days a week most of the time. Turn up the tunes, audiobook or talk show, sip your coffee and enjoy the ride.

My Advice To New Flight Nurses

Be ready to STUDY STUDY STUDY! The first 3-6 months of your new job as a Flight Nurse will be intense. It’s like going back to school. This is not like getting any other nursing job or orientation, this is learning an entirely new field. I can assure you it will blow your mind in all the right ways. The first time you are walking onto a shut down highway for a multi-vehicle MVC, it will be worth it! And lastly, be open to learning. Take in every possible piece of knowledge you can! Flight Nursing is a world unto itself, and we have the fire resistant onesies to prove it!

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