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Air and Surface Transport Nursing

Air and Surface Transport Nursing

Hollis Forster, RNC-NP

In the quest to search out exciting avenues that can be pursued using a nursing degree, the “flight nurse” or “air or surface transport nurse” emerged. This path seems to welcome both ADN and BSN educated nurses. But, also, if you are inclined to further your BSN education, there is a Master’s degree offered specifically for flight nursing. The Masters program uses the basic education involved in an Acute Care Nurse Practitioner study course and adds an enhanced focus on emergency skills and experience delivering care in an environment outside of the traditional hospital or clinic setting (an “unstructured” environment). It also includes education on bioterrorism and disaster-response, and encourages study in the methodology of research so that evidence can be gathered to prove the value of using nurses in this capacity.

To enter the field of transport nursing (air or surface) the organizations that hire for this position, require a nurse to have an active RN license, evidence of advanced life support training (probably pretty current) and experience in emergency and critical care nursing. This nursing career emphasizes the need, also, to be able to function well as part of a team, in this case, an emergency medical team. As part of that team your duties would include:

• Transport of injured or ill patients from remote areas to the nearest care center
• Evacuation of the injured from disaster sites
• Medical support in the transport of patients or groups of patients who require continuous care.

There are several kinds of organizations that hire nurses for these positions. These range from private companies specializing in the transport of patients with special medical needs to air ambulance services focusing on traumatic events, rescue missions and emergency situations. Even commercial airlines need to access the skills of nurses to support passengers who require special care.

So, what duties and responsibilities might a nurse with this kind of position have during the course of a day? First and foremost they must be skilled in physical assessment and in the recognition of changes in the condition of a critically injured or ill patient. Routine critical care skills must come as second nature to these nurses, and, as mentioned before, it is crucial that they are able to function as part of a team.

Other tasks the RN may coordinate and manage are:

• Monitoring the medical supplies on a transport vehicle
• Coordinating training and education of others on the team in emergency procedures and care
• Assist and support emergency response teams in disaster areas
• Travel with private individuals or groups to monitor and support their medical care

This is another relatively new field of nursing and as so, the air and surface transport nurses are currently striving to develop recognition as a viable part of the emergency care world outside of the hospital setting. Traditionally, this niche has been filled by paramedics (who continue to be invaluable in this position). There is, however a place for nurses to be educated more completely in this field and to share this niche in the emergency arena.

Because of this, many of the educational programs for transport nurses, require their students to learn skills in data collection and research methods. The purpose is to build evidence based support for the validity of this specialty. It is a fact, that survival of an acute critical illness, medical or traumatic crisis is directly related to the timely access to emergency care. With this fact in mind, it makes sense that a nation with expertly educated nurses will expand access and increase the survival of the victims of these traumatic events. It is also true that those patients needing constant medical evaluation and care should be given access to the same quality of life that the rest of us enjoy. Access to travel to friends, relatives or to another care center may give an ill patient the hope and help it takes to support them in their recovery. This new nursing specialty is not only desirable but essential in this society.

And, this appears to be yet another exciting path to follow after achieving that all important nursing degree.


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