What is a Flight Nurse, Exactly? Part I: General Job Description

I’m in the flight nurse’s seat, so now what?

Before delving any more deeply into the nuances of the flight nursing profession, I think it would be wise to discuss the basics of what a flight nurse is. In my mind, describing the flight nurse role should be broken down into three parts, and thus three posts:

Part I: General Job Description—official definition and my definition
Part II: The Cool Factor—where the rubber meets the road
Part III: Personality—the most important component

Part I: General Job Description

As with any job, someone, somewhere has been tasked with writing an “official” job description. As I prescribe to the mantra, “Brilliant people copy, geniuses steal,” when possible, the following comes from my actual job description:

Registered Nurse, Flight

“The Registered Nurse, in accordance with [ORGANIZATION blah blah blah,] collaborates with other members of the health care team and uses clinical judgment skills to diagnose and treat the patient responses to actual or potential health conditions. The RN assesses, monitors, detects, plans and takes appropriate action to prevent potential physiological complications associated with specific health problems and / or medical treatment.”

As you can see, this description could cover any RN position in existence. The interesting bits and bobs are actually in our addendum with one specific sentence being important:

“Able to function effectively in and out of hospital environment with limited supportive equipment and personnel.”

I will not beat a dead horse by rewriting what is easily written. Other general flight nursing job descriptions can be found at the following links:

Air & Surface Transport Nurses Association FAQ
Nursing Spectrum, Students’ Corner: Flight Nurs
Have You ever Thought About Becoming a Flight N
NursingLink: Flight Nurse

What is My Definition of a Flight Nurse?

“A Registered Nurse, licensed and certified to their eyeballs, who is confident but not arrogant, assertive, but not an ass, experienced but able to learn new tricks. The RN has to have awesome assessment skills, be in tune with their own intuition, able to be productive in the face of extreme chaos, be a politician and tactful when necessary or just plain mean when needed. They must be self motivated, and detail oriented to the point of being anal retentive. The RN has to be a team player. A dark, sick and somewhat twisted sense of humor is preferred. They must also be courageous but maintain balance in their risk taking behavior. Above all, the nurse must keep the safety of themselves, their fellow crew members, and the patient their primary focus. They should also look cool in a flight suit.”

Although there is quite a bit of humor (duh) in the above paragraph, there is also a lot of truth to it as well. Flight Nurses must be able to care for the patient, the patient’s loved ones, the ground crew/hospital staff, as well as his or her self.

The rest simply boils down to the desire to become a Flight Nurse, and the capability to love being on the edge.

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  1. Thanks for your honest definition of a flight nurse. People tend to think we’re nothing but adrenaline junkies, but it’s more about being able to handle yourself and the situation. (and having an endless list of credentials!)

  2. Long time lurker…first time poster.

    Great job description. I recently wrapped up 20 years as a firefighter/EMT in an area over an hour from a major trauma center (12 minutes by bird). As confident as I was in my skills, and that of my crew, it was always a relief to hand over my critical patients to the flight nurses (in our system there are two flight nurses and no doc) knowing that my patient was in good hands.

    The part about looking cool in a flight suit also made me laugh. In some circles, a female flight nurse in a flight suit is considered nothing short of “hot”.

    Keep up the good work. I enjoy the blog.

  3. Great description, and something I could never do in a million years! You have so much more responsibility than I can imagine.
    And….I have horrible motion sickness. : 0

  4. Thanks for the comments!

    @Ellen—I am so stoked that you commented! I have been checking out your blog and am excited to see stuff from another transport nurse!

    @Kim—I am so lucky that I don’t get motion sick very easily. The responsibility part can make me nauseous at times though!

    @JP—Your mention about the relief of having a flight team available has echoed that of so many people I have spoken with since our accident. They have consistently said how much it means to them to know we are flying and will be there to help when needed. As far as being “hot” in a flight suit? Most days that feels a bit more literal! I just feel like a sweaty mess! 😉

  5. Great post… If I didn’t end up in the OR, I would have picked the ER or Flight Nursing. It would be really easy to fit me in the tiny space of a helicoptor (I’m 4’11”)! ;P

  6. @unskinablemb
    You should see some of the ‘boys’ try to move in the aircraft……wow. My sister LOVES the OR btw. Keep trying to talk her into working with me where she would be amazing….but I think she likes giving the surgeons attitude too much!

  7. Hey
    Love your post. I am currently in school for RT cause the nursing program takes forever to accept. I wanted to get a job already. lol. Anyways, I plan on going into nursing afterwards. I work in a hospital and everytime I see the life flight helicopter, I can imagine myself being in their with all the excitement and stuff. I love excitement. I think I live for excitement. I want to go into surgery or ER nursing when I become a nurse.
    But anyways, I enjoyed reading this post, will read the other ones.
    Can you add me to your emailing list.
    Keep doing what your doing, maybe one day I’ll be able to join ya. :_)

  8. I work in a hospital and everytime I see the life flight helicopter, I can imagine myself being in their with all the excitement and stuff. I love excitement. I have spoken with since our accident. They have consistently said how much it means to them with all the excitement and stuff. I love excitement. I think I live for excitement. These nurses are appointed on the basis of their eligibility as well as decorum. For more informations visit: Nursing Jobs

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