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Air Ambulance Training

Welcome to the first installment in our Air Medical Resource series about the Air Ambulance.

For many people in the healthcare field, becoming part of an air medical team is a dream. And it’s easy to understand why. Air ambulance crews fly overhead in glorious flying machines, rescuing people in the nick of time, providing some of the most high-level healthcare to their patients with some of the most advanced medical equipment in existence, and above all, saving and improving the quality of many peoples’ lives.

As you probably already realize, being part of an air ambulance crew  is not a simple job. It can be quite difficult to even make it onto an air ambulance team in the first place. Generally, before you even think of training to become an air ambulance crew member, you’ll want to get in some experience as a ground EMT, paramedic, or similar emergency care provider.

Air ambulances fill a lot of different roles in the healthcare field, and so the term air ambulance can denote many different things.

Air Medical Training

Individual air medical services will often supply all the training you need to become an air ambulance crew member. Typically, these air medical training programs will make sure you know how to perform medical procedures taking into account the environmental variables of being inside the helicopter or fixed-wing aircraft.

Training may actually be performed by the air ambulance’s own personnel, or a qualified outside party may do the training.

Lastly, training may be done at an individual level, in small groups, or a large number of personnel may be trained at once. The latter is most common for newer air ambulance companies that are just starting up.

Who Can Train?

This EMT has the right idea.Just about all (reputable) air ambulance services will want you to have received training and a certain amount of experience as a ground emergency personnel. Types of prior emergency personnel experience that may qualify you for air ambulance training include:

  • Emergency Medical Technicians (EMT)
  • Firefighters
  • Police officers
  • Park/Forestry Rangers

Don’t worry, this is not an exhaustive list — there are many job positions that may allow you to receive air ambulance training. Moreover, you may already have training or prior experience in another area that may completely fit the bill for an air ambulance service to train you to be on its crew, but this will obviously depend on the individual company.

Don’t Forget Ground

Even if your head’s in the clouds about becoming part of an air ambulance crew, make sure you don’t forget one very important part of air medicine: the ground. Ground training is absolutely essential for all air ambulance personnel, and is actually where you’ll spend a lot of time when you’re not flying.

In order for an air ambulance to be effective, its personnel must be well-versed in how to take care of things on the ground. This involves a number of things — your training will fill you in on all of them — but some of the most essential ground skills for crew members include loading and unloading patients into the aircraft, working next to aircraft, and verbal and non-verbal communication skills (aircraft engines are loud!).

Inside a fixed wing air ambulance.

Even inside air ambulances that are designed to be comfortable for patients, for flight nurses, flight paramedics, RTs, and other aeromedical personnel, it can easily be one of the most adverse environments you’ll ever provide care within. But for many prospective crew members, that’s part of the allure of the job.

What Does Training Consist of?

Air ambulances will generally provide a few hours of initial training. This may vary considerably depending on the type of air ambulance service (emergency, charter, etc.).

While only a few hours of training seems surprisingly low for such an important job, most personnel hired by air ambulance companies will already be extremely qualified at performing their jobs. In this way, air medical crews have the potential to be “dream teams” of emergency health care personnel, physicians, and/or specialists. Performing the same kind of procedures adeptly within the environment in and around an aircraft, rather than on the ground or in a (non-flying) hospital, is the new part.

US Navy air medical training

Other Requirements

Licenses and Certification

Applicants for air medical services must have appropriate licensure in their state for the role they wish to fill on the team. There are other certificates that you’ll need to have, such as ACLS, BLS, and CPR.

Experience

Air ambulance companies will have different experience requirements, but most will want 2 or more years of experience as a paramedic or EMT.

Physical Requirements

Air ambulance work is very demanding, and thus a decent amount of physical ability is required. Lifting (and team-lifting) patients and equipment, moving, bending, kneeling, standing, and sometimes being in rather cramped, uncomfortable aircraft interiors are all skills that an effective air medical crew member needs.

Communication Skills

Verbal and non-verbal communication must be used on the job. Aircraft engines can be incredibly noisy, and you’ll be working in and around the loud air ambulance quite a bit. Understanding medical terminology and being able to process (and act upon) the things your fellow team members are saying in loud, stressful situations is also a necessity.

How to Train for an Air Ambulance

If you’ve got what it takes and you meet the requirements above, contact your local air ambulance service or air medical training program and they can help you get started.