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A path less taken, flying nurses

Submitted by Megg Mueller on February 3, 2013, 11:48 pm

Nursing is a critical profession that employs 29.98 percent of its workers in hospitals and 10.06 percent in physicians' offices, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But the notion of nurses just working in clinical settings is no longer a reality.

Nursing: more than just a doctor's helper

Nurses work in various specialties: from research labs to forensic nursing, to neonatal, surgical, obstetrics and oncology specialties. Taking care of patients is the one commonality, but the duties and settings can be as different as the individual seeking the degrees.

One notable specialty in the field is flight nursing. These individuals treat patients in extreme situations, such as car accidents, disasters and other times while transporting a critical patient quickly, safely and with the best care to the nearest trauma center. Working in an unstructured environment, flight nurses are often the first line of treatment for acutely injured patients. This specialty typically requires a very specific type of personality and dedication.

Flying nurses: Who are they and what do they do?

A flying nurse is accompanied by a partner to a variety of environments. Flight nurse Karen Thurmond was featured in the September 2012 Orlando Magazine, and she details the conditions of her career in the article. Working in conjunction with her partner on 24-hour shifts, the flight nurse never knows what the day will involve: accidents involving children, elderly hospital transports and trauma scenes are just a few of the scenarios that must be greeted with a calm manner. Relieving patient fear is a huge part of the job, the nurse notes, as much as the quick medical decisions often needed to save lives.

For anyone curious about a career as a flight nurse, consider the pressure that might come with taking off in search of a patient that requiring anything from simple transport to life-saving measures. There is no way to specialize in the type of patient or incident, just the ability to make quick decisions in unstructured, possibly unsafe, environments.

There are risks for flight nurses that don't exist in other specializations, most of which have to do with the transportation phase of the job. Flying conditions are not always the most optimal; when emergencies happen the weather is irrelevant. The ability to handle any crisis in highly extreme conditions is needed, as is being in good physical condition. Flight nurses often treat their patients in locations not accessible by roads, and these locations may also be affected by adverse environmental situations.

What it takes to be a flying nurse

Flight nurses are often required to have many different certifications and specific experience. While each state and each program may vary, some of the basic requirements for flight nurses, as noted by the Air & Surface Transport Nurses Association, include:

  • Neonatal Resuscitation Program (NRP)
  • Pediatric Advanced Life Support Certificate (PALS)
  • Advanced Cardiac Life Support Certificate (ACLS)
  • Basic Cardiac Life Support (BCLS)
  • License as a registered nurse

Additionally, emergency room or trauma nurse experience for two to five years is generally required. Other requirements needed between six months and one year of hire generally include Certified Flight Registered Nurse (CFRN), Critical Care Registered Nurse (CCRN) and Certified Emergency Nurse (CEN). Programs that are nationally recognized such as Transport Nurse Advanced Trauma Course (TNATC), BTLS (Basic Trauma Life Support), PHTLS (Pre-hospital Trauma Life Support) and TNCC (Trauma Nurse Core Curriculum) are also recommended.Coursework can vary but any student interested in becoming a flight nurse should expect to also take such classes as stress incident debriefing, emergency medical technician training and others. There are also more formal training courses for nursing students who wish to become flight nurses. Students should check what state and program requirements apply for their area.

Sources:

American Nurses Association
Air and Surface Transport Nurses Association

Author Bio:

Megg Mueller is a journalist with almost two decades of experience. She has worked as a reporter and editor for the Reno Gazette-Journal and as an editor of health care and education manuals for Aspen Publishers, a subsidiary of Wolters Kluwer. She wrote a weekly column on the hotel industry during her tenure as assistant travel editor for USA TODAY.com. Mueller is the editor of a tourism-based website and also serves as a reporter for a weekly business newspaper.

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