Freelance Aircrew Aeromedical Insight

Freelance Aircrew Aeromedical Insight

What is ‘Medevac’? Medical evacuation by aircraft, known as medevac, is the timely movement and enroute care of injured or sick people from one location to another.  Medevac encompasses emergency and elective transportation, examples span: Emergency Medical Services (EMS) from the scene of an accident to a receiving medical facility, repatriation from a distant location back home to a medical facility, and patient transfer between medical facilities where distances are great, or when transfer times must be minimised for patients in need of critical care.

The concept of using aircraft as ambulances is almost as old as powered flight itself - the movement of patients by air dates to World War I when the first Air Ambulance flight was performed by the French Air Service carrying a Serbian officer from the battlefield to hospital. Interestingly, French records at that time indicate that the mortality rate of the injured was reduced from 60% to just under 10% if they were evacuated by air.

Subsequently, civilian "bush" pilots flying small aircraft into isolated areas began carrying doctors and nurses. In the 1920s and 1930s, Sweden, Thailand, Australia, Morocco and Scotland all established standing air ambulance systems. Today in the US, helicopters and airplanes carry out approximately 500,000 medevacs per year.

Air ambulance services are provided by a mixture of organisations spanning fee-for-service, benevolent and government contracts; they operate helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft ranging from civilian aeromedical turbo-props and helicopter services, to military heavy-lift aircraft and battlefield helicopters. Typically, helicopters are used to provide first-stage EMS (ie: to transport patients from trauma scenes) and fixed-wing aircraft are used to transport patients long-distances or when transit time between medical facilities is critical.

Air Ambulances in the civilian sector operate executive jets and turbo-prop aircraft to provide regional and international assistance. Onboard, they carry specialist medical and paramedical crew (typically two - a doctor and an assistant) who are trained to provide care whilst airborne. Doctors and medical assistants involved in medevac are known as aeromedical crew, they are usually from land-based medical backgrounds, and the equipment they use airborne is very similar to ground-based equipment.

 Who can become Aeromedical Crew?    

Aeromedical crews provide comprehensive emergency and elective care to all types of patients during medevac.  The role of the aeromedical crew can vary between flights; up to a quarter of patients transferred by medevac are critically ill patients on artificial ventilation ie: they are unconscious and unable to breathe by themselves.  Therefore, specialist doctors such as anaesthetists (aka anaesthesiologists) and intensive care doctors, along with anaesthetic nurses and intensive care nurses, are in high demand.  Other specialist role doctors such as emergency doctors, intensive care doctors, cardiologists, and renal specialists are also frequently required, as are generalist doctors (General Practitioners) depending on patients’ circumstances.

To fulfil the role of aeromedical assistant, all types of nurses, paramedics and healthcare professionals (such as respiratory therapists) are eligible.  In some cases, paramedics and nurses can also operate as ‘lead’ aeromedical staff - depending on their qualifications.  Nursing staff tend to be preferred where long term life support is required, whilst paramedics, who operate in the ‘field’ as first responders, are valued for their self-reliance and resourcefulness in rapidly changing situations.

In short, all types of medical and paramedical staff are required, and the conversion from ground-based operations to aeromedical crew is not always as demanding or lengthy as one might suspect.

What additional training is required to become Aeromedical Crew?  In broad terms, the key differences between ground-based and airborne healthcare are: aeromedical staff work in a less spacious environment, and they must be self-reliant given the implicit lack of support when in the air – therefore, good social skills and flexibility are valued traits.  When airborne there are nominally only two care providers, so both doctor and assistant must be ATLS qualified or possess an equivalent advanced life support training certificate refreshed at least annually.  Aeromedical specific training focuses on adapting to the physical environment of the aircraft, and understanding the physiological impact of altitude; most modern jets and turbo-prop aircraft have a long-range cruise cabin altitude of less than 7000 feet and are often capable of maintaining the altitude down to 4000 feet or in some cases even lower. Therefore, with the correct aptitude and general qualifications, aeromedical conversion training for work in fixed-wing transport can be achieved relatively quickly with a short period of ground-based instruction.

So why become Aeromedical Crew? Being aeromedical crew requires an element of self-reliance and an expeditionary mindset, though some medevac roles are arguably more demanding than others; transporting critically ill and emergency status patients is at the extreme end of the medevac spectrum but there is also a large market which involves the repatriation of injured but stable VIPs from sports or traffic accidents.

Given the prestigious, varied and often rewarding nature of the work, there is a surprising shortage of aeromedical crew - numerous aeromedical flights are rescheduled due to insufficient aeromedical staff.  Many land-based medical staff are unaware of the enormous scope for freelance work in the medevac sector, and many are not informed of the straightforward aeromedical conversion that can be achieved.  Meanwhile, Air Ambulance operators face a global HR challenge given diverse care requirements and the ubiquitous nature of aircraft ie: medevac can take place anywhere, at any time and requiring specific medical specialties.  

How can Freelance Aircrew.com help? Freelance Aircrew.com bring together all types of medical personnel and Air Ambulance operators in a time-critical manner using a large global database covering all specialities of care providers and all types of operators, whilst simultaneously managing crews’ availability.

Freelance Aircrew.com replaces out of date phone lists and spreadsheets, typically held by companies, at a tiny fraction of the cost of homegrown HR, providing a highly cost-effective surge an short-term HR function for operators, aeromedical crew, pilots and flight attendants.

Sign up for free: If you are a doctor, nurse, paramedic or healthcare professional and you enjoy working in a rewarding and often exciting sector whilst travelling globally, then sign up with Freelance Aircrew.com and exchange your down-time for some paid up-time.