By: Kathleen Gaines MSN, RN, CBC
Critical Care Transport Nurses work to safely and quickly transport patients requiring life-saving medical intervention. Their job is to effectively assess patients and determine their medical needs and possible interventions that can be done en route to a major healthcare system.
Becoming a Critical Care Transport Nurse requires dedication, commitment, and advanced training. In this guide, we’ll explain what a Critical Care Transport Nurse does, how to become one, how much they make, and more!
Part One What is a Critical Care Transport Nurse?
A Critical Care Transport Nurse is part of the transport team that brings critically ill patients to the hospital for life-saving interventions.
Through advanced training, Critical Care Transport Nurses perform life-saving medical procedures including intubations and/or tracheostomies.
While working in an ambulance or aircraft, Critical Care Transport Nurses collaborate with other healthcare providers to ensure that patients are transported safely and quickly to their final destination.
Part Two What Does a Critical Care Transport Nurse Do?
The main responsibility of a Critical Care Transport Nurse is to make sure patients reach their destinations, whether a hospital or long term care facility, safely and quickly.
Typically, the patients that are being transported are very sick and often need urgent care. It is essential that they are stabilized to the best of the nurse’s abilities but often this is not the case.
Despite caring for patients in a mode of transportation such as an ambulance or a helicopter, the responsibilities of a Critical Care Transport Nurse are similar to those who work in the hospital at the bedside.
A Critical Care Transport Nurse performs a variety of duties including:
- Assessing patients quickly upon arrival
- Monitoring, recording, and evaluating vital signs
- Transporting the patient quickly and safely to a hospital or long term care facility
- Preparing patients for the receiving facility
- Tracking the operation and output of life support equipment including heart monitors
- Cleaning and bandaging wounds
- Administering medications
- Infusing blood products
- Monitoring patients for reactions to medication
- Responding to changes in the patient’s condition
- Collaborating and communicating with other members of the transport care team
- Acting as an advocate for the patient
- Communicating with the hospital staff and medical team about the patient being transported
- Performing procedures as ordered and needed
- Consistently follows evidence-based practice bundles and nursing standards/procedures to provide nursing care that eliminates preventable events of patient harm and promotes excellent patient outcomes
Part Three Critical Care Transport Nurse Salary
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median salary for a registered nurse in 2019 is $73,300 per year or $35.24 per hour, but conditions in your area may vary.
The BLS does not differentiate between different specialties of nursing, but Glassdoor.com reports an annual average salary for Critical Care Transport Nurses of $65,870.
Payscale.com reports salaries for Flight Nurses, which are a type of Critical Care Transport Nurse. They found that the annual average salary was $71,158 or $32.06/hr.
Critical Care Transport Nurses can earn a higher annual salary with increased years of experience.
- 1-4 years of experience earn an average hourly salary of $29.44
- 5-9 years of experience earns an average hourly salary of $30.66
- 10-19 years of experience earns an average hourly salary of $36.46
- 20 years and higher years of experience earns an average hourly salary of $40.00
Currently, the highest average paid states for Critical Care Flight Transport Nurses that have reported salaries, according to payscale.com are as follows:
- Oklahoma City, Oklahoma - $46.50
- Dallas, Texas - $41.00
- Chicago, Illinois - $38.60
- Denver, Colorado - $38.00
- Colorado Springs, Colorado - $35.69
Part Four How Do You Become a Critical Care Transport Nurse?
To become a Critical Care Transport Nurse, you’ll need to complete the following steps:
Step 1: Attend Nursing School
You’ll need to earn either an ADN or a BSN from an accredited nursing program in order to take the first steps to become a registered nurse. ADN-prepared nurses can complete an additional step of completing their BSN degree if they wish.
Step 2: Pass the NCLEX-RN
Become a Registered Nurse by passing the NCLEX examination.
Step 3: Gain Experience at the Bedside
Prior to becoming a Critical Care Transport Nurse, individuals will be required to have a minimum of two years of critical care bedside experience. New graduates are not usually hired directly into this position.
Step 4: Earn Your Certification
There are several certifications that a Critical Care Transport Nurse can consider:
- Certified Transport Registered Nurse (CTRN): The CTRN is offered by the Board of Certification for Emergency Nursing.
- Critical Care (Adult) Registered Nurse (CCRN): The CCRN is offered by The Association of Critical Care Nurses. This is a very common certification for adult critical care nurses.
Part Five What it's Really Like to Work as a Critical Care Transport Nurse
To give you an idea of what being a Critical Care Transport Nurse is really like, we talked to one herself, the one and only, Alice Benjamin!
Here's what she had to say about her profession:
"In my 23 years of bedside nursing in critical care, there were several times when I would work with inter-facility patients. These patients would be transferred for a variety of reasons from insurance to patient/family preference or for a specialty service not offered at our current hospital. When those situations would arise one of the first things that I would ask myself is – “Is this patient stable enough to transfer?”
I later learned that there were nurses specialty trained to transport critically ill patients. When these nurses would come in, I recall always being impressed with their knowledge and skill set. Secretly, I admired them for the courage to take patients between facilities.
Research has shown that two of the most dangerous times for patients are during patient handoffs and during transport. Yet, here this nurse was getting handoff and taking a patient they barely knew into a moving vehicle, on transport equipment, without the safety net of a code team or other nurses or physicians to help manage should something go wrong. Even though I worked in high acuity areas, that was just a level of autonomy, responsibility and independence that seemed scary."
An Average Shift for a Critical Care Transport Nurse
"This is what an average shift might look like for me:"
- "I transport four to six patients, many who are intubated, sedated and ventilated; on multiple sedation and hemodynamic drips; and are actively experiencing anything from an active ST-elevated myocardial infarction (STEMI), cerebral infarction, multiple traumas, acute respiratory distress on high levels of FiO2, and sepsis."
- "I am sometimes giving IV boluses and titrating hemodynamic IV drips for low blood pressures, suctioning airways via ETT, decompressing stomachs via NGT suctioning, making decisions to bolus other emergency drugs and titrating medications based on patient status."
- "I’m doing all this in the back of a fast-moving ambulance with the siren blaring. I have one paramedic to assist me in the back and another paramedic driving and communicating with hospitals en route."
"Is it stressful and scary? Yes! Do I love every minute of it? Absolutely!" -- Alice Benjamin, APRN, MSN, ACNS-BC, FNP
Part Six Where Do Critical Care Transport Nurses Work?
Critical Care Transport Nurses can work in a variety of settings. Even though they will typically work outside of a normal healthcare setting, they are often associated with a larger company.
These nurses often work in:
They can work for any of the following:
- Government Agencies
- Independent transport companies
- International medical organization
- Long Term Care Facility
Part Seven What is the Career Outlook for a Critical Care Transport Nurse?
According to the BLS, in 2018, there were 3,059,800 Registered Nurses in the United States. By 2028, there will be a need for additional 371,500 nurses, which is an expected growth of 12%. Critical Care Transport Nurses are included in these figures.
Part Eight Continuing Education Requirements
Generally, in order for an individual to renew their RN license, they will need to fill out an application, complete a specific number of CEU hours, and pay a nominal fee. Each state has specific requirements and it is important to check with the board of nursing prior to applying for license renewal.
If the RN license is part of a compact nursing license, the CEU requirement will be for the state of permanent residence. Some states require CEUs related to child abuse, narcotics, and/or pain management.
A detailed look at Continuing Nurse Education hours can be found here.
Part Nine Is a Career as a Critical Care Transport Nurse Right for You?
Working as a critical care transport nurse is a good choice for people who are interested in working in an environment other than a hospital. Transport nurses are in different locations every day!
- You like adventure - If you enjoy changing environments, critical care transport nursing may be a specialty you will thrive in.
- You crave variety - This specialty might be a good option because no two days will be the same, and you may get a chance to treat patients of all ages with various illnesses and injuries.
- You work well independently - Critical care transport nurses have the opportunity to work independently and need to be able to make quick assessments and decisions regarding treatment.
- You enjoy a fast paced environment - Those who chase the adrenaline rush of a fast-paced environment may be well suited for this nursing specialty.
Part Ten Resources for Critical Care Transport Nurse
- American Nurses Association (ANA)
- American Association of Critical Care Nurses
- American Association of Colleges of Nursing
- Air & Surface Transport Nurses Association
- The Association of Air Medical Services
Part Eleven Critical Care Transport Nurse FAQs
How much money does a Critical Care Transport Nurse make?
- According to Glassdoor.com, a Critical Care Transport Nurse reports an annual average salary of $65,870.
What skills are needed to be a Critical Care Transport Nurse?
- Critical Care Transport Nurses must have strong communication skills, ability to work well in high-pressure situations, organizational skills, ability to work independently, leadership skills, and be flexible.
How long does it take to become a Critical Care Transport Nurse?
- It takes a minimum of six years to become a critical care transport nurse. First, it takes four years to earn a BSN and RN. Then there is a minimum of two years required as a bedside critical care or emergency room nurse. Depending on advanced training, it can take potentially longer to gain a coveted critical care transport nurse position.