Many truly motivated EMS professionals aspire to move to the highest levels of the field, and begin dreaming of careers as flights medics. However, it’s an incredibly demanding profession with very limited employment opportunities and once you begin researching how to become a certified flight paramedic, it may seem like an insurmountable task. In this article, we’ve put together some of the widely recommended steps you’ll need to be prepared to take should you be considering advancing toward a career as a flight medic.
First, you need to understand that this will be a challenging career path, both on the way to flight paramedic certification and as you begin a career with an emergency flight unit. There are many required and recommended certifications that you’ll need to obtain along the way. Furthermore, you aren’t out to simply begin collecting certifications. You’ll need to truly dedicate yourself to absorbing and understanding the procedures along the way. Hiring managers often see as many as 250 applicants for each flight medic opening and you’ll need to demonstrate complete competency, not just start rattling of mnemonics in an interview. Agencies who hire for these positions also very often want to see proven experience in critical care units, sometimes up to 5 years worth. If you think you have what it takes to become a certified flight paramedic, then read on.
1. Get your EMT-Basic certification
This is an obvious first step as you’re likely going to need at least a year of field experience before applying for an accredited paramedic school. In your EMT-B training, you’re going to learn the first steps that will set you on the path to becoming a flight paramedic. You’ll learn essential skills such as airway management, patient assessment, cardiac monitoring, and many others. You’re also going to start collecting some abbreviated certifications, known commonly in the industry as the “alphabet soup” of EMS. You’re going to learn basic trauma life support (BLTS), basic pediatric life support (BPLS), and of course, basic life support (BLS), which is intended to stabilize patients until more advanced care can be provided.
2. Find employment as an EMT-B
Your next step after receiving certification as an EMT-B is going to be to find a job in the field and gain experience. As stated, most paramedic courses are going to want you to have at least one year of field experience. You might find employment with a fire department, hospital, or a private ambulance service, but the critical issue is to begin putting your skills to work in the field.
3. Attend paramedic school
You’re then going to need to begin the long journey to gaining certification as a paramedic, which can range from 18 to 24 months depending upon the course you’re enrolling for. You’ll need to contact your state oversight agency to determine what institutions offer paramedic courses in your area. These may be offered by community colleges, four-year colleges, private training providers, EMS agencies, and the list goes on. You’ll need to find out exactly what types of programs are available from these institutions. Are you seeking a certificate, an associate’s degree, or do you want a bachelor’s degree in paramedic science? This will also determine the entrance requirements you should be prepared for. These can vary widely and may include differing durations of minimum field experience as an EMT-B, EMT-I, or Advanced EMT. They may include certain pre-requisites or interviews with instructors. You’ll need to research exactly what’s required at the program you plan to apply to and you need to begin this process well in advance of submitting your application.
4. Find employment as a paramedic, preferably in a high-volume 911 system
After obtaining certification as a paramedic, you’ll have been served up another deep bowl of alphabet soup. You’ll be certified in advanced cardiac life support (ALCS), neonatal life support (NALS), and pediatric advanced life support (PALS). Now it’s time to put these skills to use and find work as a paramedic. If you’re serious about becoming a flight paramedic, it’s highly recommended that you seek work in a high-volume 911 system to gain crucial experience in trauma management that most flight units are going to require. While it may vary from one employer to the next, you’re likely going to need a minimum of at least one year of experience working as a paramedic. Some agencies may require up to five years of field experience as a medic, or more.
5. Get your Critical Care Paramedic Certification (CCP-C)
Many employers recommend that you obtain your certification as a critical care paramedic (CCP-C), offered by the Board for Critical Care Transport Paramedic Certification (BCCTPC) as a stepping stone to preparing for flight medic positions. You will need to prepare for certification by undergoing a preparatory critical care training program, usually offered by private providers which will prepare you for sitting for the exam to obtain your credentials as a CCP-C.
6. Find work with a critical care unit
Approximately 80% of the calls on a flight response crew are critical care calls. In order to make yourself an attractive candidate for flight paramedic positions, it is recommended by most agencies that you prepare by finding work with a critical care unit in order to gain further experience with the types of calls you will be expected to respond to as a flight medic.
As you can see, the road to becoming a flight paramedic is a long journey. Keep in mind that this is a recommended, not required, career progression in order to give yourself the best opportunity to find a position as a flight medic. If you are a critical thinker, motivated, and willing to pursue this path, it could be one of the most rewarding choices you can make in the EMS industry.
This interview with Jason Hums, former president of the International Association of Flight and Critical Care Paramedics, provides good insight into what employers are looking for when hiring for flight medic jobs.