Career Pathways & Education

How to Get Your Nursing License

The Trusted Team
October 30, 2019
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Three Steps to Getting Your Nursing License

Obtaining your nursing license and becoming a Registered Nurse is often made more to sound more complicated than it actually is; but, if you have a plan and know what's required, you can take care of it in three steps. Whether you're a new grad nurse or are already a RN looking to try travel nursing, you must be licensed in your current state.

nursing license female nursing helping child

First: Graduate from a Nationally Accredited Nursing Program

Typically, this will be a nursing program that is approved by your state’s Board of Nursing. In order to sit for NCLEX and take the next step on the path to licensure, your program must be approved by the board. Most programs should be approved, but beware of some programs that sounds too good to be true; for example, ones that promise certification and licensure in less than the typical 11-18 months.

As an “accredited” program, your nursing program must meet the quality standards of the U.S. Department of Education. Not all nursing licenses require an accredited program, but it will allow you to apply for federal or state-level financial aid and make earning additional state licenses a little easier later down the road.

For Registered Nurses, the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) sets the standards, while the Commision on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) does so for the bachelor’s (BSN) level and higher (MSN, DNP).

Depending on your nursing career goals, you’ve either started down the road of a Registered Nurse (RN) or Licensed Practical/Vocational Nurse (LPN/LVN). Each has different education and clinical requirements and will allow you to function differently in your practice. If you’re looking to get a master’s degree in nursing or move into advanced practice, you’ll need further schooling and should thus focus on the RN route.

Registered Nurses (RNs)

RNs are licensed to practice nursing in their current state (registration, or licensing, is on a state-by-state basis). As a RN, you’d provide one-to-one hands-on care for patients of all ages and needs. You may choose to work in hospitals, private medical offices, nursing homes, patients’ own homes, or other academic and business-related fields. You’ll work with patients on a physical, mental, and emotional level, helping to care for and comfort them as well as their families during a variety of situations. 

Licensed Practical/Vocational Nurses (LPNs/LVNs)

Although some LPN/LVNs happily remain in the same position for their entire nursing careers, it is often the first step on the road to becoming a RN. As a LPN/LVN, your main responsibilities entail assisting RNs and Doctors with hands-on work (similar to a nursing assistant), record keeping and charting, as well as supporting patients and family members during procedures.

Second: Apply for a Nursing License with Your State Board

This is where the Licensure Guide comes in handy; you can search for your state to find out exactly what you need to apply for a license in your state. This process normally involves submitting an application online, paying an associated fee, verification of original state of licensure (if not your first) and any other licenses, completing your affidavit of eligibility, fingerprinting, and finally some additional supporting documentation.

Finally: Register for, Take, and Pass the NCLEX

Next, you’ll need to register to take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX). You can begin the registration process here. Once your application is approved, you’ll receive an “Authorization to Test” (ATT), and you’ll have roughly 90 days to schedule your NCLEX exam.

Registering for the exam is one thing, passing it is another story

At this point, you may have some additional documents and information to gather depending on your state. Once these three major steps are complete, you can begin practicing and will be well on your way to building a career as a Registered or Licensed Practical Nurse.

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