Air ambulances are specially dedicated aircrafts that are used to transport ill or critically injured patients in circumstances when land ambulances would be inappropriate or insufficient to do the task. Air ambulances are outfitted with medical equipment and manned by specially trained personnel.
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Air ambulances came into being in Australia as a means of getting patients from isolated areas of the outback to remote hospitals. The air ambulance concept was recognised by militaries around the world as having battlefield potential, and by the time of the Korean War, air ambulances had come into wide use. Today, air ambulances are used extensively in search and rescue operations at sea and on land.
Crews assigned to air ambulances will be on either a fixed wing or rotor (helicopter) aircraft. Each type of craft has its own purpose and its crew and equipment are matched to fit those purposes. Typically, helicopter air ambulances are used in emergency rescue to help expedite patient transport in situations when critical care may be far away. Helicopters can also be used to transport patients from scenes that may be inaccessiblbe from land ambulances.
In contrast to helicopters, fixed wing or jet aircraft are more often used to transport stabilised patients on longer journeys to more advanced care. A jet air ambulance may transport a patient from one hospital to another speciality care centre that may be across the country or in another part of the world. Conversely, these jets can also be used to bring patients back home from far away medical centres.
Each state has its own requirements for pilots and medical personnel that make up the crews aboard air ambulances. Most state requirements concur with or even exceed the Commission on Accreditation of Medical Transport Systems (CAMTS). Air ambulance pilots are required to have several thousand hours of flying experience including several hundred hours of night flying and their instrumentation ratings. Many air ambulance companies require that medical personnel be at minimum a paramedic, although some will use EMT-Bs. The CAMTS Accreditation Standards (7th Edition) requires that medics be trained in Advanced Life Support (ALS) and Pediatric Advanced Life Support (PALS), as well as Critical Care Technician (CCT).
Since a fixed wing aircraft will typically keep a patient in transport for a longer time period than helicopters, a higher level of training is often required. Doctors and nurses need specialised training above and beyond their typically required education and licensing requirements. All air ambulance crew members must be physically fit and maintain a "duty weight" which they may not exceed. The weight limit is usually around 90.7kg. per crew member. Crew members must also continue their medical training and recertify in their fields periodically.
Air ambulance jobs can be rewarding because they provide opportunities to help people in times of their greatest need. However, the rewards come with many risks and challenges. Air ambulances are available 24/7 which means that flight crews often work night shifts. Also, flight crews are often dispatched to inhospitable terrain in poor weather conditions. These elements have led to air ambulance crashes.
The medical field is a fast growing industry. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the EMT/ paramedic job field is expected to grow at a faster rate than some other medical fields. But, air ambulance jobs remain competitive. Air ambulance companies consider only the best candidates who already have years of experience in the field of emergency medical services.
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