State Nursing Boards and Licensure Requirements – What You Need To Know

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At this point in your career, you’re likely familiar with state nursing boards and accrediting agencies. In order to practice as a registered nurse (RN), you need to meet certain educational requirements. These requirements will be monitored and updated by state nursing boards, and it is crucial for practicing nurses to keep their licenses and certificates current. The same applies to nurse practitioners, or advanced practice nurses – you must meet specific criteria to qualify for active status. These criteria can be divided into three basic categories:

  1. Degree
  2. Licensure
  3. Continuing Education

Nursing Education

First things first: RNs must complete an approved nursing program. To practice as an RN, you’ll need one of the following entry-level degrees:

  • Nursing Diploma: 2 to 3 years of study, typically in a hospital setting
  • Associate Degree of Nursing (ADN): 2 years of study, typically in a community college
  • Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN): 4-year university degree

Note: Each degree qualifies you for the National Council of Licensing Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN).

If you want to further your education beyond a BSN and an RN license, you have several options:

  • A Master of Science in nursing degree will allow you to practice as a family nurse practitioner, nurse midwife, certified registered nurse anesthetist, or in various other specialties, depending on the courses and experience you rack up during graduate school. This degree may allow you to prescribe medication and perform various other primary care duties that RNs are not authorized to do.
  • A Doctor of Science in nursing (DSN) provides similar privileges to an MSN, but nurses with doctoral level education are more desired as teaching faculty at nursing education institutions. the DSN track can also prepare you to go into clinical or academic research.
  • The Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing (PhD) is the terminal degree for nurses, and will prepare you for leadership positions in care-providing, academic research, and administration.

Most nurses get some practical experience as RNs between studying for a BSN and finishing a master’s or doctoral degree, but rapid growth in the nursing field and the aging of the workforce are causing a surge in accelerated programs that can get you a BSN and MSN or DSN in five years.

Licensure

The credentialing process begins with the NCLEX-RN test, designed by the not-for-profit National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN). All nurses must pass this exam to be officially licensed to practice in any state. The exam’s content covers specific areas of nursing including:

  • Safe Effective Care Environment
  • Management of Care
  • Safety and Infection Control
  • Health Promotion and Maintenance
  • Psychosocial Integrity
  • Physiological Integrity
  • Basic Care and Comfort
  • Pharmacological and Parenteral Therapies
  • Reduction of Risk Potential
  • Physiological Adaptation

According to the NCSBN, the process for registering and taking the NCLEX-RN test is as follows:


The more education you acquire and the more qualifications you obtain, additional licensure might be required depending on your area of specialty. For example, nurse midwives sit for a certification exam administered by the American Midwifery Certification Board.

The Nurse Licensure Compact (NLC)

Twenty-four states in the US are members of the Nurse Licensure Compact, which allows nurses who reside in a member state to become licensed to practice in all NLC states. This compact only allows RNs to practice across state lines on a single license, and does not apply to advanced practice RNs. To get an NLC license, you must reside in an NLC party state and be a licensed RN.

State nursing boards serve two very important functions: licensing nurses and providing disciplinary action in the event of a violation. RNs must be aware of their state board of nursing requirements to ensure safe, competent, and ethical practice.

Continuing Education

Because of the rapid cycle of innovation in medical technology, nurses are required to take continuing education classes every year or few years. State nursing boards will likely require proof of continuing education classes for nurses applying for recertification.

Continuing education courses may include:

  • Advanced courses on any type of patient monitoring equipment (fetal, cardiac, respiratory, etc.)
  • Patient education strategies
  • Skills courses (stoma care, etc.)
  • Cultural and ethnic diversity
  • Therapeutic interpersonal relationship skills with patients/clients
  • Courses in any specialty area of nursing practice, including occupational health nursing, school nursing, office nursing, etc.

List of State Nursing Boards

Below are links to the Web sites for each state’s nursing board, which you can visit to find certification requirements and other relevant information:

The more knowledgeable you are about the rules and regulations that nurses must abide by, the easier your transition into the field will be. Remember, each state has its own licensing and certification criteria. If you plan to move to a different state, you may need to fulfill additional requirements in order to practice as a nurse practitioner. Review our list of schools below to find an accredited college or university that will prepares its graduates for board certification examinations.

It was not always possible to earn a family nurse practitioner degree online, but shifts in education have allowed more accredited schools these programs entirely online. While online FNP programs are still relatively new, dozens of master and doctoral nurse programs are available. To see if a school offers the right program for you, use the links below to contact a school to learn more.

Georgetown University
MSN in FNP Specialization
Georgetown University — Georgetown University is one of the few schools offering an online program for student pursuing a career as a family nurse practitioner. Established in 1789, Georgetown is one of America's oldest institutions for higher education and now offers over 100 programs through its eight schools from business to medicine and healthcare.
Kaplan University
MSN to DNP in Family Nurse Practitioner
Kaplan University — In addition to its several online nursing programs, Kaplan University has a MSN to DNP in Family Nurse Practitioner. Originally the American Institute of Commerce founded in 1937, Kaplan is one of the largest online schools with 70 campuses across the country and offers almost 200 online programs at the associate, bachelor, master, and doctoral levels.
University of Cincinnati
MSN in Women's Health Nurse Practitioner
MSN in Nurse Midwifery
University of Cincinnati — If you want to advance your career in nursing, the University of Cincinnati offers online degrees for nursing professionals including an MSN in Women's Health or Nursing Midwifery. UC was founded in 1819 and while the school now has over 42,000 students, the student to faculty ratio is only 15 to one, so you get the support and attention you need as you pursue your degree.
South University
MSN in Nurse Practitioner
South University — South University has an impressive online division that is convenient for working professionals trying to earn their MSN. A Georgia-based school, South U was founded in 1889 and now offers almost 30 online programs and has schools in eight states.

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