Skip to main content

How to Become a Flight Nurse?


Every year, helicopters and small airplanes transport some 550,000 people who need emergent medical care to hospitals and other healthcare facilities across the United States, according to the Association of Air Medical Services. From automobile accidents to heart attacks, a few minutes can mean the difference between life and death. These aircraft, also known as air ambulances, exist to deliver patients to the best facilities for their needs as quickly as possible.


For healthcare providers, flying hundreds or thousands of feet above the ground presents several challenges, including changing altitude, fluctuating pressure, and turbulence that can exacerbate illness or injury. Flight nurses, also known as transport nurses, are specially trained to account for these factors as they provide lifesaving care.


Have you ever wondered how to become a flight nurse? What does a day in the life of a flight nurse look like? What kind of nursing degree do you need?

Flight Nurse Job Description

A career as a flight nurse is one of many nurse options available to registered nurses (RNs) and nurse practitioners (NPs). They can work in civilian or military environments. Most work for hospitals or private companies that provide emergency medical transportation. Search and rescue organizations, fire departments, and even the federal government also employ flight nurses.


At the heart of their roles, flight nurses provide high-quality and efficient care to patients aboard aircraft, and they do so while following in-flight protocols. Though the job description can vary from one role to the next, the medical crew waits near the aircraft — usually at a base or station — until requested to transport a patient. Downtime between calls will vary depending on the employer, and it can involve cleaning or restocking the facility, preparing the aircraft, and ensuring that the aircraft is properly stocked with the necessary medications and equipment. Flight nurses may log numerous on-call hours every week, and they need to be available overnight, on weekends, and on holidays.


During a transport call, flight nurses evaluate their patients at the scene of the accident or injury, load them into the aircraft, and work to stabilize them during transit to the target medical facility. They may administer medications, perform lifesaving procedures, and keep the receiving hospital or facility informed of the patient’s status while in flight. Upon arrival at the hospital, they provide crucial information about the medications administered and the procedures they performed, and they may even continue to collaborate with the healthcare team after the patient’s been admitted.

Requirements to Become a Flight Nurse

To understand how to become a flight nurse, it’s important to focus on education, medical training, and even real-world experiences that can lead to a successful and fulfilling career. Flight nurse requirements can vary from one employer to the next, but they share many similarities.

Earn a Bachelor’s Degree

To become a flight nurse, candidates need to be RNs and obtain specialized training. Some flight nurses obtain an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN), but those who pursue a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree from an accredited college or university are likely to have more job opportunities. Individuals with an ADN who are already employed as RNs can take advantage of RN to BSN online program, which is a convenient alternative to a traditional BSN program.


The fully online RN to BSN program gives RNs the additional education they need to explore and pursue the flight nurse specialization. The curriculum focuses heavily on leadership, which is an important skill for flight nurses. It also teaches advanced skills, such as assessing patient health, conducting research, collaborating effectively, and confidently leading nursing or healthcare teams.

Obtain a Nursing License

Licensure is required for flight nurses in all 50 states. Candidates should register for the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN). Each state’s Board of Nursing provides helpful resources and information, and candidates need to apply for their licensure in their home state. Flight nurses who may practice across state lines should review each state’s requirements. As of 2022, 39 states are part of an agreement known as the  . Nurses who are licensed in any NLC state can practice in the others without the need to obtain additional licensure.

Earn a Master’s Degree

To further improve patient outcomes, many hospitals and private emergency transport companies prefer to hire NPs as flight nurses. NPs have a much broader scope of practice than RNs, making them the ideal candidates for the role. In some states, NPs can work independently to diagnose and treat illness or injury, prescribe medications as needed, and perform lifesaving emergency procedures that are outside the scope of an RN’s duties. After earning a bachelor’s degree and passing the NCLEX-RN exam, candidates need to pursue a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree to earn their NP credentials.

Gain On-the-Job Experience

Flight nurses require extensive medical education, and this includes real-world experience working in a trauma center, an intensive care unit (ICU), or an emergency room (ER). Many hospitals and private transport companies require at least three to five years of work experience. As such, aspiring flight nurses are often encouraged to focus their education and clinical experience in ER or trauma center settings.

Get Certified

Many employers require certification to work as a flight nurse. Flight nurses are often expected to have certifications such as the Basic Life Support (BLS), Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS), Pediatric Advanced Life Support (PALS), and Transport Professional Advanced Trauma Course (TPATC) credentials. Additionally, employers may require the Certified Flight Registered Nurse (CFRN) credential, which demonstrates the ability to provide exceptional medical care in flight. Other applicable credentials include the Certified Emergency Nurse (CEN) or Critical Care Registered Nurse (CCRN) certifications. Employers may allow nurses to earn specialized certifications during their first years on the job.

Flight Nurse Salary

Several factors can influence a flight nurse’s salary, including location, employment type, level of education, and experience level. RNs across all professions and specialties earned a median annual salary of $77,600 in 2021, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). NPs earned an average annual salary of $120,680 across all specializations in 2021.


The median salary for flight nurses across the United States was about $88,000 per year as of December 2022, according to Payscale. Flight nurses who have years of experience or numerous certifications tend to earn more than their less-experienced counterparts, and additional certifications can also provide a significant salary boost.

Employment Outlook for Flight Nurses

Nursing is a field that’s growing, which means that the employment outlook for flight nurses is good. Worth noting is that flight nursing can be a competitive specialization, especially in rural areas with little access to air ambulance services. Turnover in this field is very low, but new companies enter the medical transportation field all the time; this will contribute to the field’s growth. Advances in medical technology and expanding access to health insurance are also expected to propel the industry forward in the coming years.


The BLS predicts that positions for RNs will climb by 6% between 2021 and 2031 — very close to the average for all occupations. The demand for RNs across all occupations will continue to climb due to many factors, including expanding access to healthcare, the aging American population, and medical providers’ commitment to better patient outcomes.


Positions for NPs as a whole are expected to grow by 46% between 2021 and 2031, according to the BLS — much faster than the average growth across all occupations. The need for preventive, primary, and emergency healthcare will rise as the population continues to age, and NPs can fill many of these roles.

Fundamental Skills for Flight Nurses

Aside from education and on-the-job training, aspiring flight nurses should work to develop a broad range of skills that will serve them well during their careers. Skills such as the ability to work under pressure, critical thinking, decision-making, communication, time management, and the ability to perform complex procedures under pressure are crucial for a flight nurse’s success.


Critical Thinking

A flight nurse should also be able to think critically and be resourceful in a wide range of scenarios. Planning out the best way to care for a patient with limited space and resources is an important part of the job.


A flight nurse makes multiple decisions that can affect patient outcomes. They need to be able to make near-instant decisions regarding medications, treatments, and procedures to save patients’ lives.


Communication is a major part of a flight nurse’s duties. Understanding a patient’s needs and communicating them to other healthcare providers effectively can mean the difference between life and death.

Time Management

Seconds can mean the difference between a positive patient outcome and a negative one. Flight nurses with outstanding time management skills are better equipped to give medications and perform procedures quickly.

Start Your Path to Becoming a Flight Nurse Today

Every few minutes across the country, a flight nurse tends to a critically ill or injured individual while hundreds or even thousands of feet above the ground. If you’re interested in a rewarding career that will give you the education you need to save lives, take the first step toward becoming a flight nurse with Maryville’s RN to BSN online.


Student support specialist helping online student in café

Learn more about our programs.

Student sitting outdoors on her computer

Take your next step.

Stay in the know

Program Type
Program Name
Total tuition:
Program Type
Program Name