Flight/Transport nurses travel throughout the country and even throughout the world. An issue in the field, though, is that not many minorities are choosing this line of work. So, how can we attract more minority nurses to flight nursing?

Bob Bacheler, MSN, CCRN, CFRN, Managing Director of Flying Angels, as well as a Board Member at Large for the Air & Surface Transport Nurses Association (ASTNA), brought this to our attention. He then took time to answer questions about why more minorities aren’t in this line of nursing world and how they can become involved if they want to pursue it.

About how many flight nurses are there in all? Do you know what percentage are minorities? Why do you think that there has been a historic underrepresentation of minority nurses in the transport nursing field? Why aren’t more BIPOC working in this field?  

The shortage in minority nurses is not unique to transport/flight nursing. According to the 2017 National Nursing Workforce Survey, the nursing profession is comprised of a workforce which is predominantly female and Caucasian. Eighty-percent of all nurses identify as white, twenty percent of all nurses are BIPOC, and seven percent of the overall nursing workforce is male (2017 National Nursing Workforce Survey).

Of the overall nursing workforce, over 165,000 nurses are providing direct patient care in the transport environment (Board of Certification for Emergency Nursing (BCEN)). The flight nurse workforce trends higher in male nurses (18% in flight nursing compared to 7% overall), but lower in the percentage of BIPOC nurses (13% compared to 20% overall). Given the competitive nature getting into flight nursing, it’s beneficial for potential applicants to get their Bachelor’s or even Master’s degrees and certifications such as Critical Care Registered Nurse (CCRN), Certified Emergency Nurse (CEN), Trauma Certified Registered Nurse (TCRN), Transport Professional Advanced Trauma Course (TPATC) and/or Certified Pediatric Emergency Nurse (CPEN).

Becoming a Transport/Flight RN is only the beginning of the educational process. Obtaining certifications such as Certified Transport Registered Nurse (CRTN) or Certified Flight Registered Nurse (CFRN) requires considerable effort. Maintaining those certifications as well as usual requirements of most positions require continued education. According to BCEN, the average transport RN has 16 years of experience, with 78% holding a Bachelor’s degree or higher, which is far higher than the average RN population. Most of the applicants for Transport/Flight Nurses come from critical care nursing positions.

While the underrepresentation of BIPOC in flight nursing could possibly be attributed to a number of factors, a primary factor could be lack of access to the licensure requirements/higher education credentials necessary to obtain a flight nurse position. According to the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) report on 2018-2019 Enrollment and Graduations in Baccalaureate and Graduate Programs in Nursing, nursing students from minority backgrounds represented only 34.2% of students in entry-level baccalaureate programs, 34.7% of master’s students, 33.0% of students in research-focused doctoral programs, and 34.6% of Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP).

According to the 2018 AACN Healthy Work Environment National Workforce Survey Results, minority representation in critical care nursing has only increased slightly from 14% to 20% in the past 15 years. As identified earlier, critical care nursing is one of the primary career pathways to transport/flight nursing. Public policy interventions that would increase minority access to higher education could help to increase the number of minority nurses who enter the critical care nursing field, which would eventually increase the available pool of qualified applicants for transport positions.

Why are companies looking to hire BIPOC as transport nurses? What do they bring to the field?

As the percentage of BIPOC population increases nationally, companies realize that patients are often best served when the flight RN reflects the community they are serving.

Explain what a flight nurse does. Would someone need to get additional credentials to become a transport nurse?

Flight nurses are registered nurses that have specialty training to provide medical care as they transport patients in either rotor (helicopter) or fixed-wing (plane), or either by air ambulance or commercial aircraft. Flight nurses work with other trained medical professionals like paramedics and physicians. Helicopter RNs are often called upon to help transport critically ill or injured patients to trauma centers. Air Ambulance RNs are often transporting ICU level care patients long distances.

With Commercial Medical Transport, which is Flying Angels’ specialty, RNs are tasked with accompanying patients on commercial airlines transporting patients around the country and the world. These are people who need to be transported long distances, and while they do not need the ICU level of care provided by an Air Ambulance, they do require a nurse with significant experience and skill.

What are some of the benefits of working as a flying nurse? What are the challenges?

Each specialty—Rotor Wing, Air Ambulance, Ground Ambulance, and Commercial Medical Escort—have their own rewards. All have a higher degree of autonomy than nurses who work in hospitals. Rotor Wing nurses are saving lives every day, transporting critically ill patients from trauma scenes to hospitals. Air and Ground Ambulance RNs are practicing at the peak of their skills, in cramped quarters to make sure people are where they can get the best care. Commercial Medical Escort RNs are often reuniting families around the country and the world. In many cases, they are getting people home who would otherwise have no way of getting there. All share in the reward of doing good for their patients as well as sharing a high degree of job security.

Why do you think more minorities should look into this as a career choice?

All Transport/Flight RNs practice the peak of their skills and enjoy tremendous job satisfaction. Opportunities for Transport/Flight RNs are growing each year. Transport/Flight RNs enjoy an esprit de corps and a sense of community. They are also some of the highest-paid nurses working.

What would readers be most surprised about regarding being a flying nurse?

Being a Transport/Flight RN is often hard work, in cramped quarters, for long hours. The emotional toll can be draining. Adjusting to jet lag/time zone transferring can often prove to be difficult.

Is there anything else that is important for our readers to know?

Professional associations in transport/flight nursing promote the esprit de corps. These associations give you a place where you can connect with others and share best practices. Join a professional organization such as ASTNA, which has an employment job board, and attend conferences such as the Air Medical Transport Conference (AMTC).

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