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How To Become A Flight Paramedic

How To Become A Flight Paramedic

— A Guide for EMTs, Paramedics And Others Who Want To Fly Air Medical

Imagine waking up tomorrow…

excited to go to work.

It almost sounds crazy, right?

Because most of us don’t think of work as something to get excited about. Or something to look forward to doing. Or something fun.

But some people do.

Some people look forward to every work day (or night) and can’t wait to start another.

Flight medics are one example.

Flight medics get excited about going to work. Flight medics look forward to almost every shift.

Why?

Because flight paramedics love what they do.

Flight medics get paid to fly on board multi-million dollar helicopters and airplanes – and to save lives.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not all glamour and excitement and fun, and there’s definitely work involved earning a flight medic position. But it’s also a job many professionals love to do.

What about you?

Have you ever thought about becoming a flight medic? Or found yourself looking skyward a little longer than everyone around you  when a medical helicopter flies over?

If so, this article is for you. This article will re-ignite your initial efforts to become a flight medic, or quickly get you started on the right path to a flight paramedic career.

What Do Flight Paramedics Do

Let’s start with an understanding of what flight paramedics do.

Flight paramedics respond by helicopter or airplane to provide emergency medical care to patients. Flight paramedics assess and treat patients, and pass critical information about the patient’s condition to the receiving hospital.

In the United States, flight paramedics respond to two primary types of medical situations: accident scenes (commonly referred to as scene calls) and inter-hospital transfers of patients. Flight paramedics are required to work rotating day and night shifts, as well as holidays and weekends. The typical air medical base is staffed 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

The most typical crew configuration for medical helicopters in the United States is one pilot, one flight nurse, and one flight paramedic.

What Do Flight Paramedics Get Paid

According to Payscale.com, as of Oct 2016, the average pay for a Flight Paramedic in the United States is $20.48/hr or $51,183 per year.

Almost all flight paramedics report receiving medical coverage from their employers and most collect dental insurance.

Flight Paramedics who took the Payscale.com survey are largely men, dominating at 86 percent.

Who Can Become A Flight Medic

Anyone with discipline, focus and drive can become a flight medic.

When I coach medical professionals on how to transition from ground to air medical careers, I recommend following a version of the same process they used to accomplish other big goals in their lives. I remind them how they didn't reach their current success all at once.

Success is a process. The ability to break big goals into smaller, more manageable chunks is important.

Once your big goal is broken into smaller parts, keep chipping away at the smaller steps until you reach your bigger goal. When you say it this way, it sounds simple, right? That’s the point!

Keep the process simple to stay motivated and keep yourself from getting overwhelmed.

Achieving big goals is a lot of work. But the process is simple.  And the simpler you keep the process, the greater your chances of success. You'll see what I mean when I show you the steps to becoming a flight paramedic below.

It's simple, but not easy.

Who Should NOT Become A Flight Medic

Let me be clear.

Becoming a flight medic is a commitment.

It’s not for everyone, and there’s no “magic pill” to swallow and speed up the process. It’s about focus, drive and discipline.

The International Association of Flight and Critical Care Paramedics (IAFCCP) estimates for each flight paramedic opening, approximately 250 applications are received. That’s a lot of applicants for one flight job!

You should also know that much of the effort required to obtain the education and experience required to land a flight medic job, continues throughout your entire flight paramedic career.

What I mean is, the education part never ends.

There’s always something new to learn about the job. The expectation is you're a professional. You want to learn and you're willing to commit to on-going professional education and development.

That’s not meant to discourage you, but rather to give you the facts about what it takes to become a professional flight paramedic. Many consider it a Herculean task.

I don’t personally agree with the Herculean part anymore; because I started EMS in an era that was different than now, and believe it or not, more competitive than becoming a flight medic today.

One thing is for certain, there will always be more people who want to fly than available flight medic positions. For this reason alone, you’ll have to bring your best effort to get hired. It can be done, but realize there’s some work involved.

Let’s start with the basics.

Basic Qualifications To Become A Flight Medic

Here’s the technical stuff required to get yourself eligible to apply for a flight medic position.

The information is grouped into required, preferred and real-world categories. Realize the qualifications can and do change. Also, individual flight programs sometimes require additional program specific training. All flight programs provide ground to air transition training for new hires.

Flight Paramedic Qualifications:

Required*

  • Education: High School Diploma
  • Experience: Minimum three years’ experience in a busy 911 system
  • Licenses & Certificates
  • EMT-P certification in state(s) served
  • National Registry Certification may be required to meet state licensure requirements
  • Specialty certification: FP-C is required within two (2) years of hire
  • Current certifications in Healthcare Provider BLS/CPR; ACLS; PALS or equivalent (AHA courses if state or county required) and advanced provider ITLS (if state or county required)
  • Advance trauma course: One (1) of the following is acceptable:TNATC, ATLS/ATCN or TNATC within six (6) months of hire (please note advanced skills lab must accompany all of the above mentioned advanced trauma courses).
  • NRP lessons 1-9 within six (6) months of hire
  • NIMS Training IS 100, 200, 700, 800 and HazMat upon hire

Preferred*

  • Education: Bachelor’s degree in health-related field
  • Experience: Previous critical care transport experience and flight experience

*Source: Air Methods Human Resources Guide

Real World Caveats (As of Today)

  • Experience in any 911 system is acceptable
  • Applicants with no degree routinely accepted
  • After hire coursework extensions beyond 6 months, granted on a case-by-case basis

Where To Start If You Have No Experience

If you’re starting from Ground Zero with no medical experience at all, I recommend starting and completing an emergency medical technician certification course.

This will give you the basics of what’s involved in flight medicine in general, as well as give you a chance to determine your own suitability for a flight medic career.

Understand this is the entry level qualification, and of course more is involved in being a flight paramedic. But this will get you started and give you a benchmark to assess how much you like pre-hospital services and how well suited you are for the career.

Stuff To Know About Becoming a Flight Paramedic

The number one question I get asked as director of EMS Flight Safety Network is “How do I become a flight medic?” and “Is there a system I can follow to get a flight job?”

Both are good questions.

The answer to the first question is the resource guide / blog post you’re reading now. The answer to the second question is a little trickier. Because the answer is both yes, and no.

There is no magic “pill” to become a flight medic. Hopefully I dispelled some of those myths in the “Who should NOT become a flight medic” section above.

But…and this is the good news: there are strategies students have repeatedly used to shorten the average time it takes to successfully land flight medic careers.

Here’s an important note about the steps to becoming a flight paramedic below: The steps are NOT linear.

What I mean is you don’t have to do all the steps in a specific order. You can jump around.

The steps that need completed first are obvious. You already know it makes no sense to apply for flight jobs before you’re qualified, right? (For the record, some people test this principle, and so far, all have failed).

The benefit to non-linear steps is that you can start right now, today.

For example, a lot of successful flight medics credit their personal and professional networks for opening doors to flight paramedic opportunities. You can start building your professional network today. You don’t need any special medical qualifications to do so.

Here Are The Steps To Become A Flight Paramedic

These are the steps I teach future flight paramedics who enroll in INSIDER training program at EMS Flight Safety Network. In the training program, each step is covered in much greater detail. But the steps and supporting information below will give you a very good start.

1.) Get Qualified

See the Basic Qualifications to Become a Flight Medic information above.

If you’re starting at ground zero with no experience, step one is a Google search for EMT training +plus your city and state.

Example: EMT certification in Tacoma, WA

This will give you a starting point.

2.) Identify Target Flight Programs

All flight programs do great things, but not all flight programs are created equal.

What exactly does that mean?

Put simply, it’s in your best interest to spend time thinking about which flight programs you really want to work for. From the outside looking in, it may seem like any flight job is a good job. But unfortunately, that's not always true.

Don't worry, I get it. I was once in your shoes looking for my first flight job. I remember what it's like to want a flight job so badly I'd chew my own arm off for one.

And even if your first flight medic job isn't perfect, there are benefits to getting initial flight experience. Some experience is obviously better than no experience. Having said that, know that it’s in your best interest to choose flight programs wisely.

3.) Research Flight Programs

How do you research flight programs?

Like all the other steps, research is a process, not one-time event.

The INSIDER training program at EMS Flight Safety Network devotes an entire training module to this topic. My point is simply that it’s too much information to cover in this blog post, but here is a good place to start:

Create a “cheat sheet” for each of your target flight programs.

What is a cheat sheet?

A cheat sheet is like a flight program avatar. A document that brings your flight program to life. It lists all the basic data about your target flight program. For example:

  1. How many aircraft does the flight program own?
  2. How many bases does the flight program staff?
  3. Are all the bases full time?
  4. When was each base established?
  5. What type of aircraft does the program fly?
  6. Is the flight program IFR or VFR?
  7. If the program markets itself as IFR, does it really fly IFR?

You get the idea.

There’s of course a lot more to add, but the list above will get you started.

The benefit to creating a profile for each of your target flight programs is hopefully, obvious. Once you have profiles in place, it’s easy (or at least easier) to compare different flight programs. It’s also the type of information you want to know cold before a flight interview.

4.) Build a Better You

You’ll want to bring your very best to a flight interview and flight medic position.

If you’re new to EMS or health care, what I'm about to tell you may sound a little hokey…

It’s an honor to take care of people in time of need. If you’re not sure what I mean, or if you’re questioning the validity of what I just said, talk with experienced EMS or air medical crews and have them explain it to you. It’s important to understand.

It’s one of the reasons you should decide right now to commit to self-improvement.

How do you get started building a better you?

My advice is to start with stuff you already do well, build yourself up, and then start working issues you know need improvement. Think of the advice you would give to a friend. Don't be harsher on yourself than you would a close friend.

Remember that everybody is good at something. Maybe academics are your strong point? Maybe fitness and health are your strong points? Whatever it is, start strong. Then work on areas you know need improvement.

Here are some articles to get you started (click the red link titles):

10 Ways To Keep Your EMS Soul Alive

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Future Flight Crew

An Open Letter To EMS Who Want To Fly

5.) Grow Your Network

Successful flight medics rarely go it alone.

Successful flight medics often have huge personal and professional networks. The inside joke at EMS Flight Safety Network is how many of our flight medics’ facebook profiles look like facebook business pages. Seriously.

Why?

Because their networks are so big! Many have thousands of facebook friends. To some this may seem trivial, but when it comes to networking for a flight medic position, it can become very important. It literally can become the tipping point between landing a dream job or never getting the opportunity to fly.

How do you build a strong personal and professional network?

One fan, follower or connection at a time.

If you’re serious about pursuing a flight medic career, I’m serious about helping you get started. Click to connect with me on LinkedIn - just put “Future Flight Medic” in your connection request, and use ask @ flightsafetynet.com for my email address, if LinkedIn asks you to provide one.

LinkedIn is a the biggest professional network on the planet. The benefit to connecting with me (and others) is all of my EMS and air medical connections will immediately become your 2nd level connections.

I hope this helps you get started.

6.) Schedule a Fly-along Day

An important step in the “Get a Flight Medic Job” process is scheduling a fly-along day.

What is a fly-along day?

It’s basically like any other job shadow day, with one important exception: you get to fly on-board a trauma helicopter with real flight nurses, flight paramedics and EMS pilots.

If this sounds crazy or too good to be true, I understand. When I first explain the opportunity to folks outside of EMS, the looks I get are priceless. But the opportunity is absolutely real. Call your local air medical base for details.

 

7.) Write a Killer Flight Resume & Cover Letter

Your flight resume and cover letter is important.

Flight resumes are different than regular resumes. This is especially true for wannabe EMS pilots, but it also applies to flight medic applicants.

My best advice is to find someone in your EMS network who successfully transitioned to an air medical career, and use their resume and cover letter as a guide. Note: I did not say copy verbatim. I said use as a guide to get started.

Here are some flight interview articles to help you get started (click the red link titles):

10 Smart Questions To Ask In A Flight Interview

51 Flight Interview Questions for Future Crew

How To Virtually Guarantee Yourself A Flight Interview

How To Get Your Flight Paramedic Resume Noticed Every Time

Give Me 5 Minutes And I'll Give You The Secret To Flight Paramedic Interviews

 

8.) Setup a Mock Flight Interview

What is a mock flight interview?

A mock plate interview is exactly as the name implies. A mock flight interview simulates a real flight interview.

The better the simulation, the better your chances in a real flight interview.

My advice is to set up a panel style interview where several of your friends grill you with questions repeatedly. Remember that the key to success is making the mock interview as genuine and realistic as possible.

Explain to your friends ahead of time how important getting a flight job is to you. Ask them to take it seriously on your behalf. If you have a friend willing to do a little extra for you, have them recruit their friends, preferably unknown to you.

Again, the better the simulation, the better you'll do in a real flight interview.

9.) Nail Your Real Flight Interview

Doing well in your real flight interview is obviously a prerequisite to get hired as a flight medic.

How do you do it?

Remember that knowledge is power. The more you understand about the flight interview process and how real flight interviews work, the better you’ll do.

Here is something to get you started:

Understand that the majority of flight many interviews are what I call “panel style.” What panel style means is that several interviewers participate in your interview simultaneously, and ask you questions in a round-robin type format.

This can be intimidating if you’re not used to this style of interview or you’ve never experienced it before. It’s another great reason to take the time and effort required to setup a mock flight interview.

10.) Pick The Best Flight Program for You

If you just getting started, the idea of having to choose between several different flight many positions probably sounds crazy to you, right?

But at EMS FlightSafety network, we’ve been successful enough with our coaching programs to make adding this step to our process a necessity.

It’s something you want to consider carefully. Like I mentioned earlier, all flight programs do great things, but not all flight programs are created equal.

You want to know ahead of time your flight program preference list. Reality is that choosing is never as simple as simply going down the list and checking off your top choices in order. Life is messy. So our job offers.

You probably won’t have the luxury of getting offers in order of your favorites list from top to bottom. But defining your flight program preference list ahead of time will save you a lot of stress and potential hassle.

11.) Make Smart Choices Once Hired

Believe it or not, your first job offer to become a flight paramedic is just the beginning.

It’s really your “license” to learn.

One of the big keys to success in air medical is what I call the “flying mindset.” What is the flying mindset?

The flying mindset is the inner confidence to know you have what it takes to get hired as a professional flight paramedic, and to succeed as a professional flight paramedic after you get hired.

What I tell my coaching students at EMS FlightSafety network is this: the only difference between you and current flight crew is a six week training program that teaches you the unique parts of flying for flight program XYZ. That’s it!

You may not believe my advice right now, but once you start flying you'll see it's spot on.

Reality Check About The Steps To Become A Flight Paramedic

Here is something to note about the steps to becoming a flight paramedic.

The steps change.

Why do the steps change?

The steps to getting a flight medic job change to reflect the changes in what helicopter companies and health systems want in flight medic candidates. The good news is the changes are historically slow and the fundamentals to getting a flight medic job remain constant.

My point is to check back here periodically for the most up to date information. Keeping this information as up-to-date as possible is fundamental to what we do at EMS Flight Safety Network.

For information about other EMS Flight Safety Network careers, read What Is EMS Flight Safety Network — And Why You Should Give A Crap About It!

Most Asked Questions About How To Become A Flight Medic

 

Additional Resources (Recommended by EMS Flight Safety Network)

The EMS and air medical world is full of great people and great resources to become a flight medic. Here are some of our favorites (in no particular order):

Click the red link to open the resource.

Paramedics on facebook - Huge network of EMS professionals on facebook. John is the man (and my friend).

Survivor's Network for the Air Medical Community - Kristen and crew do excellent work!

EMS World - A personal favorite. Nancy Perry, EMS World editor, is a consummate professional.

EMS SEO - Great resource! Jim helped me with online stuff and EMS stuff. He can help you too.

AirMed & Rescue Magazine - A must read for air medical. James and crew are top notch.

EMS1 - Greg Friese, editor, is an EMS household name. A standard staple for EMS professionals.

NEMSPA - National EMS Pilots Association - under new management and doing some good stuff.

HelicopterEMS - I don't know Mr. Randy Mains personally, but I like his work.

AAMS.org - Association of Air Medical Services - The 900 pound gorilla of air medical and industry standard.

 

What Is INSIDER Training Program

 

INSIDER is EMS Flight Safety Network's coaching program for future flight medics, flight nurses and EMS pilots.

Enrollment is currently closed, but I open the program to new enrollments 2-3 times per year. Here's the "catch" you're looking for:

Enrollment is limited by number of applicants and geography. This keeps the training personal and keeps INSIDER members from having to compete against each other for air medical jobs.

You can check back here for open enrollment periods, as well as go to the INSIDER membership portal to sign up for the free portions of INSIDER training.

What To Do Now

Is this the definitive guide for how to become a flight medic? In my opinion, no, not yet.

But it's a good start.

Here’s how to help improve this resource for everyone:

Add your comments, suggested updates and changes to the blog comments (at the bottom of this post).

Be sure to mention if your recommendation is program specific. That’s it!

Thanks in advance for helping us make this guide a great resource for anyone interested in a flight medic career.

Listen to the Audio Version Here:


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About the Author: Troy is an Air Medical Career Expert passionate about a team approach to improving air medical safety from the ground up. Troy is a former Army medic, Army pilot, Coast Guard pilot and EMS pilot. Troy has taught hundreds of wannabe flight medics, flight nurses and EMS pilots the exact steps needed to launch air medical careers.

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