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The Basics of Nursing Licensure

So you are interested in becoming a nurse, right?

With over 4 million nurses at the heart of the U.S. healthcare system, you are certainly not alone. However, if you want to become a nurse in the U.S., you need to be licensed to practice.

Three Steps to Earning Your Nursing License

Eligibility varies from state to state and is heavily dependent on where you obtained your education. If you complete a nursing program outside the U.S., there is a good chance you will have to go through some extra steps to acquire your nursing license. Since that is another process entirely, we will save that for another article. For someone educated in the U.S., the process is pretty straightforward.

Let's go through the steps:

1. Graduate from a board-approved nursing program. To be eligible to take the NCLEX, the program you attend has to be approved by a state regulatory body. Board Approval vs. Accreditation It is important to note that board approval is not the same as accreditation. In some states, a nursing program can be board-approved and not accredited. That said, we do recommend getting an education from an accredited school for the following reasons:

  • Uniformity: Accreditation ensures that schools follow a similar curriculum and students are learning the same material, which safeguards patients and ensures consistency.

  • Financial Aid: To receive financial aid from the federal government, the school must be accredited by a governing body recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.

  • Transferal: Many schools will not allow you to transfer credits from an unaccredited nursing program.

  • Advanced Degree: To be admitted into an advanced nursing degree program, many universities require that you hold an undergraduate degree from an accredited school.

  • Career Advancement: Some employers will only hire nurses who receive their education from an accredited school.

2. Pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX). The NCLEX is an examination developed by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) to assess nursing competencies gained during theoretical and clinical nursing education. Depending on the educational program you complete, you will take the NCLEX-PN to become a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) – alternatively known as a Licensed Vocational Nurse in California and Texas – or the NCLEX-RN to become a Registered Nurse (RN). The examination consists of 75 to 145 questions, is five hours in length, and is designed to test your knowledge in four areas of nursing, including:

  • Safe and Effective Care Environment

  • Health Promotion and Maintenance

  • Psychosocial Integrity

  • Physiological Integrity

Before you can take the examination, you will need to:

  1. Complete a licensure application in your desired state

  2. Register with Pearson VUE and pay the initial $200 registration fee

  3. Receive an Authorization to Test (ATT), which affirms your eligibility

  4. Schedule your exam

3. Undergo a criminal background check Receiving a criminal background check or a certificate of Good Moral Character (GMC) is mandatory in some states. Since this requirement may vary, we advise that you contact your state board of nursing for more information.

Nurse Licensure Compact If you have been doing some research, you may have heard of the Nurse Licensure Compact (NLC). To put it simply, the NLC is an agreement among U.S. boards of nursing that allows nurses to practice in Compact States under one license.

Why is this helpful?

  • Time: It enables you to travel freely throughout the U.S. without having to fulfill individual regulatory requirements.

  • And Money: You save money on initial registration and renewal fees.

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