There are countless reasons that an individual elects to pursue a career as a certified flight registered nurse, or CFRN, and those that join thousands of others in the medical field find a career that offers them both personal fulfillment and satisfaction—as well as a lot of money.
In fact, a CFRN salary can range from approximately $23.00 an hour for newly practicing individuals up to $65.00 per hour after the individual has gained hands on experience in the field with an average salary in the United States of around $63,000 per year.
So what is a flight nurse? What do they do? Well, a flight nurse works as part of a team alongside other emergency medical and hospital staff to provide expert medical care to patients in fast-paced environments.
Some of the primary duties of a certified flight nurse include:
- Aeromedical evacuation of patients aboard airplanes and helicopters
- In-flight Patient assessment
- Administer advanced patient care to assure safety and comfort
- Overseeing the proper utilization equipment and supplies
- Assure proper medications are administered
- Act as a liaison between operational and medical aircrews
- Preform initial emergency care on patients in the absence of a physician
The educational path towards becoming a CFRN requires that the you possess diligence and dedication, as well as a deep love for patient care. In order to properly perform job duties, the person must also possess an acute ability to effectively communicate with others and their emergency medical team, work well under pressure and demonstrate strong critical thinking skills.
An interest in science and medicine is ideal, alongside a desire for acquiring a career that is personally rewarding while also offering daily challenges. Individuals can elect to pursue a career in flight nursing at any stage in their working life, but the earlier one takes action steps towards this path, the faster you’ll be able to enter the job market and see if this is the right career field for you.
CFRN’s are highly trained, meaning that the position will require a considerable about of education, as well as several certification processes, in order to meet the requirements necessary to preform essential job functions. The following guidelines are designed to assist individuals at any stage of the process, and will function as an all-inclusive reference for obtaining the required prerequisites and to becoming a flight nurse (and a certified one, at that).
Prerequisites for Flight Nurse Students
Those individuals that have made the decision to purse this career while still in high school will benefit from assuring they obtain some basic science knowledge, through classes’ primarily in biology and chemistry, and maintain a competitive G.P.A for acceptance into an institution of higher learning for continued education.
While some states offer the RN degree at an Associates level of college, the average individual in most states will find that a Bachelor’s degree is the minimum level of education required to become an RN.
Bachelor degrees in Nursing are offered at the University level, as well as some Technical Schools, so high school students should aim to graduate with at least a 3.0 grade point average for acceptance.
According to recommended guidelines, students of all age and experience levels should keep in mind that most institutions require from flight nurse applicants require certain requirements be met in order to receive job placement after school ends.
These requirements include, but are not limited to:
- Three years’ experience as a nurse in an ICU or ED
- Possess excellent clinical assessment skills
- Developed independent decision-making skills through experience and education
- An ability to problem solve and demonstrate resourcefulness
- Obtain valid certifications as well as additional transportation education
- Have strong public speaking skills
- Currently hold up-to-date, nationally recognized certifications that include the CEN, Certified Emergency Nurse, CFRN or Certified Flight Registered Nurse, or a CCRN, Certified Critical Care Nurse.
Earning a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing
The first step in the process of becoming a flight nurse will be to obtain an Associate’s Degree in Nursing or ASN through one of the thousands of accredited community colleges and Universities located in the United States.
The course path will take approximately two years of full-time study to complete, covering basic core courses such as English and college level Mathematics, and working up to the specialized medical courses for this degree field.
During core curriculum, students will also have the opportunity to develop some secondary skills required of flight nurses through courses such as speech for public speaking skill development. Individuals can find complete national listings of accredited Community Colleges, as well as a variety of scholarship and internship opportunities from the Organization for Associate Degree Nursing or OADN.
A Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing, which can be completed at most 4 year Universities and some Technical Schools, is the second step in an education towards flight paramedic careers. RN’s make up the largest population of medical professionals nation-wide and individuals will find many educational opportunities, as well as internship and job placement opportunities are available as needs continue to rise.
The Nursing Educational program will provide intensive, supervised clinical training in combination with ongoing classroom learning that will teach the students advance medical care techniques and assessment skills. Students can also work part-time or volunteer with local medical facilities during this educational period for even more hands-on experience in the field. The program consists of a combination of didactic education and hands-on training through clinical internships before the student will successfully complete the program and graduation.
Gaining Licensing as an RN (State Certification)
All RN’s wishing to become certified must have a Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing and complete the NCLEX examination administered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing or NCSBN.
Students should begin the registration process for testing as soon as possible, as it will be required to receive authorization by the Pearson VUE before allowance will be given for examination.
For self-study before examination day, the NCSBN offers a complete Test Plan found on their official website free of charge. Students can download printable PDF versions or watch a webinar training video in order fully prepare for successful completion. These guides serve as an outline for the materials and testing procedures that you can expect during testing and will assist in better preparation for a passing score on the first attempt.
The detailed test plans include:
- A concise definition of each of the Client Needs Categories
- Nursing activity statements
- Detail examples of exam content
- Sample NCLEX test items
- Item writing guides
Allow up to six hours for examination, which will include a tutorial and two breaks given 2 hours into testing, and then again at the 3.5 hour mark.
Tests are administered through facilities located within the state of testing and are done online through CAT testing programs. Once a student has answered a question, it is not possible to return to change an answer, so great care should be taken.
Recommendations include working slowly through each question, dressing for comfort and making doubly sure that you have answered the question completely before continuing onward.
Scores are evaluated twice, once during the actual testing process as the student progresses and second when they are sent to Pearson VUE for score verification once the test has been submitted to assure accuracy. Though scores typically arrive within six weeks of the examination date, some states offer accelerated results options where students can receive scores by phone after 48 hours with written results still arriving at normal times via mail.
Obtaining Field Experience
Most employers accepting new flight paramedic applications will also require their potential hires to have completed at least 3 to 5 years’ experience as a trauma nurse, working in an ICU or other fast-paced emergency environment.
Once the individual has obtained the NCLEX certification as an RN and obtained employment in this field, one can expect to receive ongoing training and education through rewarding work in the medical field. Trauma nurses are highly trained individuals, working in a hectic hospital environment in cooperation with a medical team that can consist of physicians, other RNs and medical support staff.
While a highly demanding field, the individual will find personal satisfaction, as well as the proper training for pursuing a career as a flight nurse. Similar to a career in paramedics, trauma nurses may be expected to perform a variety of emergency care as the front line during emergency situations, in the hospital setting that can include:
- IV administration and care
- Administration of Medicines
- Patient monitoring and ongoing care
- Drawing blood and checking vital signs
- Basic Medical Procedures
- Emergency patient assessment or diagnoses
An individual should be prepared for a demanding and fast-paced work setting and able to remain calm during times of extreme stress. This is an excellent opportunity to build the skills required to effectively preform flight nurse job functions, including assessment and critical thinking skills, communication and leadership abilities and assure that the student has the right characteristics for further pursing the final steps towards this rewarding career path.
Working as a trauma nurse while completing the steps towards flight nursing also comes with its share of financial incentives that include health benefits, retirement 401k and an average salary between $40,000 and $90,000 depending on experience.
- Note: Be sure to read our in-depth article entitled Paramedic vs Nurse: Which Career Is Best?
Certifications, Advanced Certifications and Special Accreditations
Individuals can begin working towards the obtaining of additional certifications and training required for most flight nursing positions while accumulating the expected years’ experience as a trauma nurse to shorten the length of time it takes to complete the educational process. Flight nurses will be expected to carry many of the following certifications, training and advanced/special certifications to be considered for employment:
- Emergency Medical Services (EMS-B) Certification
- Mobile Intensive Care Nurse (MICN) certification
- Basic life support training and certification
- CPR certification
- Advanced Cardiac Life Support Certification
- Pediatric Advanced Life Support training
- Neonatal Resuscitation certification
- Prehospital Trauma Life Support training
Other optional certifications and training can include international trauma life support training, emergency transportation training and education and leadership in medicine courses. The most common of these requirements, the EMT-B certification, can be obtained through the NREMT and will include up to six months of self-study during preparation for the examination.
Upon successful completion, the individual will receive certification as a basic EMT, but many also elect to purse Advanced EMT certification during the 3 to 5 years’ experience portion of requirement completion for an even bigger competitive edge during the hiring process and to further reinforce advance emergency care techniques. Requirements for flight nurses may also include hazardous materials training and Hazmat, but will depend on the specific company.
The final stage of completion towards a career in flight nursing includes obtaining the CFRN certification. In some areas, the individual may also be required to hold a CEN, or Certified Emergency Nurse or CTRN, Certified Transport Registered Nurse in addition to the CFRN, so it is important to check the institution’s prerequisites before applying.
The Certified Flight Register Nurse Certification, or CFRN, is the final step towards this rewarding career and is obtained through examinations maintained by the Board of Certification for Emergency Nursing.
The CFRN examination is designed similarly to the RN testing procedure and make-up, with content related the specific field of emergency nursing. Individuals must preregister with the Pearson VUE and receive permission to schedule a testing date through a local facility so completing the process should be done as soon as possible. The examination is administered in online fashion through CAT and consists of 180 items. Individuals will be allowed a total of 3 hours maximum to complete the test and results will be available immediately after completion.
Though the path to a career in flight medicine can be lengthy and require a higher degree of training, education and certifications, this career can prove professional and personally satisfying as well as financially rewarding to an individual with the right characteristics.
Before devoting the complete time required to meet standards for the flight nurse profession, individuals of all career and age levels are encouraged to volunteer with local emergency companies in order to assure that this career path is right for them. Dedication, diligence and devotion are the three key ingredients that will lead to a successful career in flight nursing.
For more on paramedic and nurse training and careers, be sure to bookmark Paramedic Training Spot.
And finally, watch this inspiring video of a woman who shares her story on what it’s like to be a working flight nurse: