When an accident or critical illness occurs, transport to the nearest healthcare facility is essential as part of saving lives. In some situations, transport through flight using an air ambulance is necessary in order to quickly move a patient from the scene to a hospital where he can receive further treatment. In order to provide high-quality medical service, many air ambulances are staffed with flight nurses. These specialized nurses are trained to care for the most critically ill patients, and can do so all while in the air.
Flight nurses are not strangers to critical care, in fact, most have had several years of experience working in intensive care units or emergency rooms before even starting to work on an air ambulance crew. Student nurses who enjoy the challenge or adrenaline rush of critical care do not necessarily attend school to specifically become flight nurses. Instead, they must finish nursing school and work up to the status of flight nurses after spending years practicing clinical skills. This ensures that by the time they start working with flight crews, they have the experience and critical thinking skills to respond to emergency situations.
Beyond work experience, many flight nurses also have advanced certification that goes above licensure. Some types of certification include advanced life support for adults, infants or children, emergency room certification, or certification in critical care nursing. These nurses may also have extra training to perform skills above standard care measures that nurses perform in the hospital, such as inserting a breathing tube or starting complex intravenous lines.
Flight nurses often work as part of teams when responding to emergency calls. These flight teams may consist of one or more nurses, an EMT, respiratory therapist, nurse practitioner or even a physician. The flight nurse is under the direction of the physician, although she may have standing orders to follow during emergencies, which reduces the number of times she must call the physician for direction during a case.
Many hospitals that have high-level intensive care units have flight nurse teams that are standing by in case of emergency. If a call does come in for help, these nurses are quickly dispatched to the scene, where they can stabilize the patient and support him during the flight back to the hospital. During critical events, flight nurses are there to provide quick decision-making, expert medical care, and compassion to patients who need it the most.