Nursing Certification and Licensure Requirements

October 12, 2021

Nursing Certification and Licensure Requirements

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Review Nursing Licensure Information

Nurses provide front-line medical care in fast-paced settings. Prospective nurses need more than a nursing degree. They should also research nursing licensure and nursing certification.

After earning a registered nurse (RN) license, nurses gain experience in a specialty area. Many nurses pursue nurse certification to showcase their experience. Certification as a pediatric nurse, family nurse practitioner, or oncology nurse helps RNs advance their careers and increase their earning potential.

This page introduces the process of earning a nursing license. Prospective nurses can explore popular nursing certifications and review nursing licensure information.

Frequently Asked Questions About Nursing Certification

true Q. What Certifications Should I Get as a Nurse?

Nurses earn certifications to demonstrate specialized skills in areas like pediatric nursing, ambulatory care, oncology nursing, and radiologic nursing. Nurse practitioners also pursue certification in their specialty area. The type of nurse certification depends on individual nurses and their career goals.

true Q. How Many Certifications Do Nurses Need?

Nurses can apply for over 180 nursing certifications. Generally, one nurse certification suffices for most specialties. Nurses transitioning into a new specialty may want more than one certification. The best number varies by field, so nurses should consider their career path.

true Q. Do Nurses Get Paid More for Certifications?

Nurses typically earn higher salaries with certifications. A certification also helps nurses compete for top roles. Many of the highest-paid nurses hold a certification. However, before pursuing certification in a specialty area, nurses should research the earning potential and job prospects with a certification.

Earning a Nursing License

Before pursuing nursing certification, nurses must complete the requirements for nursing licensure. This section highlights the step-by-step process of earning an RN license.

Prospective RNs must first complete an educational program. Nurses qualify in every state with an associate degree in nursing. Candidates can also apply with a bachelor's in nursing or a nursing diploma. During a nursing program, learners study human anatomy, physiology, and pharmacology. Enrollees also gain hands-on clinical skills through labs, practica, and clinical rotations.

Nurses must graduate from an accredited program to earn a license. The Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education grants accreditation to nursing programs.

Each state requires nurses to apply for a license, typically from the state board of nursing. The process and requirements vary by state. Candidates typically need an associate degree or nursing diploma. Most states also set minimum clinical hours to earn a nursing licence.

Students must complete their state license application, pay a fee, and undergo a background check. The board of nursing only licenses candidates who successfully complete an approved nurse education program.

Before earning a license, nurse candidates must pass the NCLEX-RN exam and any other state-required exams. Nursing exams test candidates on their healthcare knowledge, clinical abilities, and patient care skills. Test-takers must earn a passing score on the exam to qualify for licensure.

Most nurse education programs prepare students for their state's required exams, including the NCLEX-RN exam. Students can register for the NCLEX-RN exam up to six weeks before they graduate.

Some states require a bachelor's degree to become an RN. Others require a minimum number of credits in certain disciplines, like the natural sciences or communication. Many states conduct a fingerprint check and background check. Some also drug test candidates.

Prospective nurses should carefully review their state's requirements. Aspiring nursing students should attend an approved nurse education program so their degree counts toward the licensure requirements.

RNs qualify for more job opportunities and earn higher salaries than licensed vocational nurses. However, they must regularly renew their license and maintain a current, unencumbered license to practice.

The renewal process varies by state. In most states, RNs must complete continuing education credits to renew their license. Renewal applicants may also need to complete additional background checks and disclose any personal or professional issues. RNs must pay a fee to renew their license.

Nursing Certifications

Candidates need a graduate degree in nursing. The 150-question certification exam tests candidates on clinical knowledge. Test-takers answer questions on assessment, diagnosis, adolescent care, and geriatric care. Candidates earn the credential with a passing exam score. Candidates need a current RN license with several years of professional experience in oncology nursing practice. They earn the credential by passing an exam. Certified nurses renew regularly by completing continuing education hours and 1,000 hours of adult oncology nursing practice. Candidates need a current RN license with several years of professional experience in oncology nursing practice. They earn the credential by passing an exam. Certified nurses renew regularly by completing continuing education hours and 1,000 hours of adult oncology nursing practice. Candidates need an advanced practice RN license. They also need at least 2,000 hours of holistic nursing practice in the past five years. The credential requires a graduate degree and training in holistic nursing theory. Candidates earn the credential after passing an exam. Candidates need a current RN license with at least 1,800 hours of pediatric clinical experience in the past two years. Alternatively, candidates qualify with five years of pediatric nursing experience and at least 1,000 clinical hours in the past year. Qualified pediatric nurses complete a 175-question exam to earn their credential. Certified pediatric nurses recertify annually. The Radiologic Nursing Certification Board administers this certification for radiologic nurses. Candidates must be members of the Association for Radiologic & Imaging Nursing. The credential also requires a current nursing license and a passing score on the 150-question exam. The exam is offered four times per year. Nurse practitioners with dermatology experience qualify for the certification. Candidates need a master's or doctorate in nursing with a current nurse practitioner license. They also need at least 3,000 hours of dermatology nurse practitioner experience in the past three years. The credential remains valid for three years. Candidates apply for the credential through the American Nurses Credentialing Center. Board certification requires passing scores on a competency-based exam that tests entry-level clinical knowledge. The credential remains valid for five years. Candidates need a current RN license with at least two years of experience in a medical-surgical setting. The credential requires a minimum of 2,000 practice hours in the past three years. Candidates pass an examination to earn the credential.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Nurse - Time of Completion

A typical nursing degree can take 2-4 years to complete. Each level of nursing has its own timeline, and that timeline can vary depending upon factors like part-time vs. full-time enrollment, certification, and the type of program. 

Below is an overview of the typical amount of time it takes to complete a nursing degree, keep in mind that the length provided is for the amount of time it takes to complete that segment of the degree, not the entire academic path overall:

Nursing Degree Level Time of Completion
Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) 2-3 years
Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) 1-2 years
Registered Nurse (RN) 4 years
Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) 4-5 years
Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) 1.5-3 years
Doctorate of Nursing Practice (DNP) 1-3 years

Genevieve Carlton holds a Ph.D. in history from Northwestern University and earned tenure as a history professor at the University of Louisville. An award-winning historian and writer, Genevieve has published multiple scholarly articles and a book with the University of Chicago Press. She currently works as a freelance writer and consultant.

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