How to Become a Flight Nurse in 2024: Requirements & Salary

Imagine soaring through the sky, providing critical care to patients in need, and working in a high-pressure environment where every second counts. This is the life of a flight nurse, a unique and rewarding career path for those who have a passion for nursing and a love of adventure. In this blog post, we will guide you through the requirements and process of becoming a flight nurse, so you can launch your career into the skies.

Key Takeaways

  • Flight nurses provide medical care during air transport, utilizing specialized skills and training.
  • Requirements for a flight nurse position include an RN license, experience in acute care units or ICUs, certifications such as the CFRN credential, and often a BSN degree.
  • Flight nurses can earn up to $81K/yr with career prospects expected to grow. Managing stress & fatigue is part of the job.

The Role of a Flight Nurse

Flight nurses, including military flight nurses, are instrumental in delivering medical care during air transport, guaranteeing patient safety and comfort amidst the challenges of a moving environment. A flight nurse job involves working alongside other medical professionals, including ground personnel and pilots, to coordinate patient care and transport logistics.

Flight nurses’ work environment is diverse, offering various flight nurse jobs in both civilian and military settings, such as:

  • Hospitals

  • Medical transport companies

  • Search and rescue organizations

  • Government agencies

Despite the potential safety risks associated with adverse weather conditions, accident scenes, and turbulence in the air, flight nurses are trained and prepared to handle these challenges and provide the highest level of care to their patients.

Medical Care in Transport

While in transit, flight nurses’ duties include administering medical care, watching patient conditions, and executing required interventions. They are proficient in various technical skills, such as Advanced Cardiac Life Support, Airway and Mechanical Ventilation, and Basic Life Support, among others.

Flight nurses may encounter a range of emergency scenarios during transport, such as:

  • Near-syncope

  • Gastrointestinal issues

  • Respiratory problems

  • Cardiovascular symptoms

Their training equips them to handle these medical emergencies and provide care in the unique environment of an aircraft, which may differ from that of a medical facility due to the high-pressure environment and limited resources available. Private medical transport companies ensure their staff is well-prepared for such situations.

Equipment Maintenance and Preparation

Beyond medical care, flight nurses also maintain and prepare medical equipment to guarantee its cleanliness, functionality, and readiness for transport use. They handle a range of equipment, such as portable ventilators, defibrillators, IV pumps, and cardiac monitors, among others.

The standard protocols for equipment maintenance and preparation may vary depending on the organization or agency employing the flight nurse, but they can refer to resources like Advisory Circular AC 00-64 and AFMAN 10-2909 for general guidelines. Proper equipment maintenance is essential for patient safety and the efficient delivery of care during transport.

Collaboration with Medical Professionals

Teamwork is a significant aspect of flight nursing, as these professionals work closely with ground personnel, pilots, and other medical professionals to coordinate patient care and transport logistics. In their role, flight nurses typically collaborate with paramedics, doctors, and the flight crew.

Effective collaboration between a flight nurse and pilot is essential for the safe and efficient transportation of patients. While the flight nurse provides timely medical interventions and continuous monitoring throughout the flight, the pilot communicates critical information about weather conditions, flight routes, and potential obstacles. This collaboration helps minimize delays, optimize patient safety, and ensure a smooth and coordinated transfer.

Flight Nurse Education and Licensure

Aspiring candidates aiming to become flight nurses must begin by acquiring a nursing degree, either through a two-year Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a four-year Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program. After graduating, they will need to take the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) in order to be eligible for licensure. Passing this test is a requirement for any nurse looking for licensure..

One should remember that every state has distinct board requirements for licensure, which may include background checks, references, and submission of transcripts. Aspiring flight nurses should research their state’s specific requirements to ensure they are adequately prepared for licensure.

Nursing Degree Options

As previously noted, candidates for a flight nurse position can opt for either an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). While both degrees can lead to a career in flight nursing, many employers prefer candidates with a BSN due to the additional education and skills acquired in the four-year program.

When selecting a nursing program, it’s important to consider factors such as:

  • cost

  • student-to-teacher ratio

  • accreditation

  • the school’s relationship with local medical facilities

Each nursing degree program offers a unique set of courses and experiences that can help prepare individuals for a successful career in flight nursing.


The NCLEX-RN exam, a standardized test, is a prerequisite for licensure as a registered nurse in the United States. The eligibility requirements for the exam include having a nursing degree equivalent to an ADN or BSN from an accredited U.S. nursing program.

The exam consists of 74-145 questions, including 15 pre-test questions that do not count toward the test taker’s score. It covers topics such as safe and effective care environment, health promotion and maintenance, psychosocial integrity, and psychological integrity. Successfully passing the NCLEX-RN exam is a vital step in obtaining licensure and pursuing a career as a flight nurse.

State Board Requirements

As mentioned earlier, each state has its own board requirements for licensure as a registered nurse. These requirements may include background checks, references, and submission of transcripts. The background check typically includes a thorough examination of the nurse applicant’s educational background, employment history, professional license, and criminal record.

When applying for flight nurse licensure, it’s customary to provide specific character or professional references who can vouch for your competency and character, particularly in critical care and high-pressure environments. Aspiring flight nurses should carefully research their state’s specific requirements and ensure they have the necessary documentation and qualifications in place.

Gaining Relevant Experience

Prior to transitioning into flight nursing, it’s imperative that nurses accumulate relevant experience in acute care units, trauma centers, or intensive care units (ICUs). This experience provides a foundation in managing high-pressure situations and caring for critically ill patients, skills that are essential for success in flight nursing.

Employers often require flight nurses to have at least two to three years of nursing experience, with a focus on acute care or ICU settings. This hands-on experience offers valuable opportunities for nurses to develop their clinical skills, critical thinking abilities, and decision-making capabilities, which will serve them well in the challenging and dynamic environment of flight nursing.

Acute Care Unit Experience

Working in acute care units provides a solid foundation for flight nurses. In these units, nurses:

  • Manage high-stress situations

  • Care for critically ill patients

  • Facilitate new patient consultations

  • Perform physical examinations

  • Diagnose acute or chronic conditions

  • Prescribe medications

  • Assist other medical professionals

Acute care unit experience equips nurses with the necessary skills and knowledge to handle severe illness, potential in-flight patient deterioration, and other adversities that may occur during air transport. This experience is invaluable for flight nurses, as it prepares them to provide the highest level of care to patients in the unique environment of an aircraft.

Trauma Center and ICU Experience

Gaining experience in trauma centers and ICUs further develops essential skills in emergency medicine and critical care, preparing nurses for the unique challenges of flight nursing. In these settings, nurses are responsible for:

  • Monitoring patients

  • Assessing vital signs

  • Administering medications

  • Managing ventilatory support

  • Providing overall patient care

Working closely with other healthcare professionals in trauma centers and ICUs allows nurses to:

  • Devise and execute treatment plans for critically ill or injured patients

  • Enhance their clinical skills

  • Foster the development of teamwork and collaboration, which are vital components of a successful flight nursing career.

Certifications for Flight Nurses

Securing certifications like the Certified Flight Registered Nurse (CFRN) alongside additional certifications in critical care can highlight expertise and boost employability for flight nurses. Certification is not always an essential requirement for becoming a flight nurse. However, employers will usually expect you to gain one within the first year of employment..

These certifications not only validate a nurse’s knowledge and skills but also help them stand out in a competitive job market. Pursuing certifications can also provide valuable networking opportunities, as they often involve attending conferences and participating in professional organizations.

CFRN Certification

The CFRN certification is a widely recognized credential for flight nurses, requiring an RN license and successful completion of a 150-question exam. It is administered by the Board of Certification for Emergency Nursing (BCEN) and demonstrates proficiency in the knowledge and skills necessary for flight nursing.

To be eligible for the CFRN certification, candidates must:

  • Hold a current, unrestricted Registered Nurse license

  • Have at least 3-5 years of experience as a registered nurse

  • Often, have a minimum of a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree

Obtaining the CFRN certification not only demonstrates expertise in flight nursing but can also increase a nurse’s employability and marketability in the field.

Additional Certifications

In addition to the CFRN certification, flight nurses may pursue additional certifications such as Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS), Pediatric Advanced Life Support (PALS), and Neonatal Resuscitation Program (NRP). These certifications further demonstrate a flight nurse’s expertise in specialized areas of critical care and can enhance their qualifications for flight nursing positions.

By obtaining these additional certifications, flight nurses can showcase their commitment to continuous learning and professional development, making them more attractive to potential employers. These credentials also serve as evidence of their ability to provide high-quality care to a diverse range of patients during air transport.

Flight Nurse Employment Opportunities

A range of employment opportunities awaits flight nurses in diverse settings including:

  • Hospitals

  • Medical transport companies

  • Government agencies

  • Search and rescue organizations

  • Military contexts

The diverse range of opportunities allows flight nurses to choose a work environment that best suits their interests and career goals.

To find job opportunities in these settings, flight nurses can explore job search websites such as Indeed and ZipRecruiter or visit the websites of specific organizations dedicated to search and rescue operations, such as emergency departments and fire departments. By networking and researching available positions, flight nurses can identify the best opportunities to launch their exciting and rewarding career.

Flight Nurse Salary and Career Outlook

A flight nurse’s salary, with a median value of $81,220 per year, fluctuates depending on elements like location, experience, and the type of employer. While the salary can be highly attractive, it’s essential to consider the unique challenges and demands associated with the profession when evaluating the potential rewards.

The demand for flight nurses is expected to grow alongside the overall nursing field. As the healthcare industry continues to evolve and the need for specialized care in remote or hard-to-reach locations increases, flight nursing is poised for growth. Pursuing a career in flight nursing can offer both personal fulfillment and professional advancement, making it an appealing choice for those seeking a dynamic and rewarding profession.

Professional Resources for Flight Nurses

A plethora of professional resources are available to flight nurses to bolster their career development and augment their skills, including transport professional advanced trauma training. Some of these resources include:

  • Conferences

  • Podcasts

  • Organizations like the Air and Surface Transport Nurses Association (ASTNA) and the Interprofessional Critical Care Transport Conference

These resources provide valuable opportunities for education, networking, and collaboration.

These resources enable flight nurses to stay current with industry trends, learn about the latest innovations in flight nursing, and connect with peers and experts in the field. Actively engaging with these resources can help flight nurses advance their careers and contribute to the continued growth and improvement of the flight nursing profession.

Common Questions

Aspiring flight nurses often have questions about the process of becoming a flight nurse and the potential challenges associated with the profession.

This section will tackle two frequently asked questions concerning the training duration and possible disadvantages of being a flight nurse.

How Long Does it Take to be a Flight Nurse?

The time it takes to become a flight nurse depends on the individual’s educational path and experience. Typically, it requires at least 5-7 years of combined education and work experience. This includes the time spent completing a nursing degree program, preparing for and passing the NCLEX-RN exam, and gaining the required experience in acute care or ICU settings.

The exact timeline may vary depending on factors such as:

  • the specific nursing degree program

  • the amount of time allocated for studying and preparing for the NCLEX-RN exam

  • the availability of job opportunities in acute care or ICU settings

By planning ahead and considering these factors, aspiring flight nurses can create a realistic timeline for achieving their career goals.

What are the Cons of Being a Flight Nurse?

While flight nursing offers many rewards, it also comes with its fair share of challenges. The high-stress nature of the job, potential safety risks, and the need for adaptability in challenging environments are some of the cons associated with the profession.

Flight nurses must be able to manage the following:

  • Stressors of flight

  • Fatigue

  • Environmental extremes

  • Physical exertion

Additionally, the irregular schedule and unpredictable hours can make it difficult to maintain a healthy work-life balance. Despite these challenges, many flight nurses find the profession incredibly fulfilling and thrive in the dynamic environment of air medical transport.


In conclusion, becoming a flight nurse requires dedication, education, experience, and the willingness to face unique challenges. With a solid foundation in nursing education, licensure, and relevant work experience, flight nurses can embark on an exciting and rewarding career that allows them to provide life-saving care in the skies. By staying informed and engaged with professional resources, flight nurses can continue to grow and evolve in this dynamic field, making a positive impact on the lives of patients in need.

Frequently Asked Questions

What does a flight nurse do?

Flight nurses provide pre-hospital patient care aboard an aircraft. They are responsible for checking vitals, keeping records, administering medication, and performing medical procedures, often in collaboration with on-ground personnel and other members of a critical care team. In the event that there is no flight physician on board, a flight nurse takes charge.

What are 3 qualifications of a flight nurse?

To become a flight nurse, one must first complete an associate degree program, nursing diploma program or a bachelor’s degree in nursing. Additionally, one must pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) and have experience in clinical areas like critical care, trauma, and emergency nursing. Lastly, certification in flight nursing may be desired, though not always mandatory.

How long does it take to be a flight nurse?

Becoming a flight nurse may take about seven to nine years, depending on your educational background and hands-on experience. Generally, it requires four years to earn a bachelor’s degree plus three to five years of experience.

What are the cons of being a flight nurse?

Being a flight nurse can involve long periods of waiting, punctuated by moments of intense pressure, making it a challenging and stressful role.

What is the minimum education requirement to become a flight nurse?

To become a flight nurse, an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) is required.