Flight paramedics are nurses who work in aero-medical emergencies and evacuation missions. Their jobs often involve patients requiring critical care as they are transported to an equipped medical facility. Flight paramedics are thought to have one of the most exciting and high intensity adrenaline jobs. No two days are the same in this profession. Every new day brings with it a new challenge but having completed the task well, leaves one a sense of fulfillment and more confidence and eagerness to welcome another day. Having said that, not everyone is cut out for this profession. One would have to be ready for a lifetime of education and pass various exams, both theory and practical. Apart from that, the job of a flight paramedic involves a high level of stress and medical risks, though they do come with a lucrative pay to be able to live a comfortable lifestyle. For those built for this job, would be amongst those who would wake up feeling excited about going to work!
Flight paramedics are basically those nurses who are required to provide emergency medical services to patients who have had a serious injury or suffered a trauma, often in a remote area. They have a very diverse range of environments to work in. Examples include: transporting patients from remote communities to qualified medical facilities, attending to emergencies due to natural disasters where ground transportation is not possible or feasible, transporting patients in extreme critical conditions from one medical facility to a better equipped one. Or even providing emergency medical care to those who have seriously injured themselves on mountains or other areas not accessible by ground vehicles.
They work with a mobile response unit and a medical support team of flight nurses and physicians outside a medical setting. They might also be asked to transport a critically ill patient from one medical facility to a better equipped one. In either case, their main task is to recover and stabilize and keep the patient in a stable condition during the transport. Hence, they usually work under tremendously high stress environments.
Due to the nature of their job, flight paramedics are additionally trained for various circumstances and medical procedures including how to keep the patient stable in the event of turbulence or unforeseen weather conditions during the flight or the rescue mission. Often, being the first ones at the site, they are required to perform critical medical assessment and provide emergency medical care which at times may include on-site surgery. If the patient requires or has just been through a surgery, stability is crucial for their survival. They are also trained to ascertain what additional equipment they would be required to take depending on the information given to them about the patient and their location during the assignment of the rescue mission.
Since their tasks involve medical emergencies and saving lives, they are trained for quick and appropriate responses. They are responsible for ensuring the medical equipment on the aircraft is checked and in working order at all times. This is vital. There is no room for error.
When called for a mission, they typically have an hour to gather all required equipment, check the weather, make a flight plan and prepare the aircraft.
Flight paramedics typically work in 12 – 13 hour shifts and overtime depending on the circumstances of the task at hand.
How to become a flight paramedic
In order to become a flight paramedic one must be a qualified ground paramedic. Most jobs for flight paramedics require at least 3 – 5 years of experience as a ground paramedic. The basic require that one must be over 18 years of age and has a high school diploma. They have to clear criminal background checks and drug tests, which are conducted regularly. The candidate is expected to be physically fit and must be immune to air sickness. It is desirable that they be able to work in small and closed environment and under extreme stress and pressure.
Since the nature of tasks of a flight paramedic is so diverse, it is also important for them to attain proficiency in providing emergency medical care for 1st, 2nd and 3rd degree burns, spinal injuries, cardiac arrest, respiratory and blood circulation complications, bone fractures and obstetrics.
The candidate would need to undertake an accredited program approved by the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technicians (NREMT). Whilst working as a ground EMT it would be essential to gain as much experience as possible in critical care EMT operations.
It is vital to continue education and obtain the necessary additional certifications which include:
- Basic Life Support
- Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support
- TNACT, CCEMTP, ATLS-Audit Certification
- Pre-hospital Trauma Life Support
- Pediatric Advance Life Support
- Flight Paramedic Certification
In order to obtain the flight paramedic certification, the candidate needs to pass the flight paramedic certification examination conducted by the Board of Critical Care Transport Paramedic Certification (BCCTPC). The examination involves a set 125 multiple choice questions spanning a wide range of relevant subjects and would need to be completed within 2.5 hours.
This, however, is not the end of education in the life of a flight paramedic as this profession requires continuous education and training along with keeping oneself physically fit and healthy.
Salary and Job Outlook
There is currently no differentiation by the Bureau of Labor Statistics between a ground paramedic and a flight paramedic. The median salary for a paramedic in 2017 is listed as USD 33,380 with the top 10% earning more than USD 56,990. A growth of 15% is anticipated between 2016 to 2026 in jobs for EMTs and paramedics with a projection of 19,400 annual job openings. Whilst there is no defined limit to the qualifications required for landing a flight medic job, the best prospects are for those who have significant experience in providing critical emergency care, have continuously upgraded their certifications, are physically fit and able to think quickly and make appropriate crucial decisions to save lives.