How To Obtain Your RN License And Keep It

Throughout the United States, qualified nurses are needed in various occupations such as bedside care, nursing consultants, leadership roles, education, research, and advocacy. RNs are the forerunners in healthcare and treatment as they administer medication, assist during surgeries, educate patients, promote wellness, and manage other nurses. Due to the surging number of patients and the aging population, nurses worldwide continue to be in demand. 

Moreover, constantly evolving needs and countless health care specialties have provided nurses with a variety of opportunities to pursue meaningful work. Notably, nurses perform adequate patient care. Hence, those who aspire to become one must take the necessary steps to complete an education and attain a license. 

Keep reading to know the common steps to obtain your RN license and how to keep it.

1. Apply for College Admission

When looking for universities to attend, the options may be overwhelming. To narrow them down, bear in mind some factors you need to note, especially for aspiring registered nurses. Program concentrations have to be regarded if you’re hoping to specialize in a certain area. Look for schools that provide these academic concentrations and confirm if you meet the necessary admissions requirements. Commonly, universities may require a certain GPA or prerequisite coursework to gain admission.

Additionally, the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing officially give accreditation to these programs, ensuring they offer quality education and can sufficiently ready you for the future licensure exam. 

However, identify first how nursing will fit into your life before choosing your school. For instance, if classes have to be on campus, will you have time to attend them? If not, then you may opt for online classes.

Currently, there are many universities offering nursing degrees online. Such programs will later require enrollees to fulfill the necessary clinical duties in their community’s medical setting.

Moreover, for students who already hold a bachelor’s degree in another field, a practical option is to attend a university that provides a ‘second degree’ program in nursing.

2. Earn and Complete an Accredited, State-Approved Nursing Degree

Pursuing an undergraduate degree is the starting point for aspiring nurses. The best nursing programs integrate both classroom instruction and clinical experience. Clinical training will offer real-world immersion in the healthcare setting. It will allow you to experience how it’s like to work and connect with fellow nurses. Likewise, the experience will also allow you to learn how a medical facility operates.

If in doubt, you may want to take a gap year before starting college to earn more experience and think about which program suits you best. This journey may help you know if the profession is right for you and decide whether to invest or not for further education. Likewise, the career path you’re interested in may determine the type of nursing degree you’ll need. 

Commonly, two practical routes can be explored to attain your license: 

  • An Associate in Nursing (ASN) is a two-year degree program in nursing that takes less time to complete. This program allows you to join the workforce sooner. Notably, you can still get your license after you have finished your associate program. 
  • A Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) is a four-year degree program that you can take to attain your license. A bachelor’s program requires you to attend general education classes on top of your major nursing coursework. 

Although plenty of the same subjects in the associate program are covered in the bachelor’s degree, a four-year program may provide a wider array of knowledge and skill set. Employers may most likely hire nurses who hold a bachelor’s degree because they’re more equipped with in-depth education. 

3. Apply for License with Your State’s Licensing Board

When you’re already a nursing graduate or an incoming nursing graduate, note that you must apply to a particular state licensing agency. You should register with the National Council of State Boards of Nursing to qualify for the exams. Then, you will receive an Authorization to Test notification when it’s time to sign up. 

In some states, nursing students turn in their applications before their graduation. While they won’t be licensed until afterward, this could speed up the process. Some nursing schools provide official verification when program requirements have been complied. 

Every US state and territory requires employed nurses to gain proper licensure. Fresh graduates should contact their state board of nursing to know other compulsory steps, such as a background check. In others, official transcripts must be prepared even for in-state candidates. Mandates may vary for each state, so research first.

4. Take and Pass the NCLEX or Other Required Exam

Initially, you need to become a registered nurse to practice and demonstrate your knowledge and skills. Nursing programs should help ready their RN candidates to pass the NCLEX-RN examination. All 50 states utilize the same standard licensing exam. NCLEX-RN is a computer-adapted exam that has to be accomplished within six hours. With an average of 119 questions, the national average passing rate is approximately 70-75%. Those who failed must wait at least 45 days to retake it. 

Notably, if you’re residing in a non-compact state, decide whether to take your home state’s licensure exam or opt for the exam in the state where you want to work. However, your eligibility will be limited to a single state license valid only in that particular state. Nonetheless, if you’re living in a non-compact state, you can attain as many single-state licenses as you desire. If this is quite stressful for you, you may apply for a license by endorsement in a compact state.

On the other hand, if you live in a compact state and wish to work in another compact state, you only need to apply to your own state board. Only nurses who declare a compact state as their primary residence may be eligible for a multistate license. 

The Nursing Licensure Compact or NLC has diminished the challenges for nurses working within various states. With this resolution, nurses belonging to NLC states could work across different states without applying for multiple licenses and renewal fees.

In addition, states have particular policies about nurses working after graduation. Some grant temporary permits to candidates still waiting to take and/or receive their NCLEX results. Others may allow you to work for a limited period under supervision. However, some states don’t permit you to work in any healthcare setting until you pass the NCLEX and the RN license is issued.

5. Become a Lifelong Learner

Once you pass the exams, get licensed, and start practicing your profession, you might think you’re already done with the academic journey as you focus on your nursing career. However, the learning doesn’t stop there. Every two years, nurses need to accomplish continuing educational courses. Thus, check with your state’s nursing board for requirements. Likewise, if you desire to specialize in a certain nursing field, consider earning a professional certification. This strengthens your credibility and enables you to display your skill set to more employers.

Moreover, earning a master’s degree will qualify you for more nursing avenues. You may set your career as a nurse practitioner, clinical nurse specialist, or a certified nurse anesthetist. In addition, evidence of continual learning and competence can be manifested by accomplishing professional development through participating in publication or research, performing presentations and lectures in various states, and the like.

The healthcare industry is an ever-evolving industry, with a surging number of advance medical software and novel discoveries. Thus, part of your role includes having to keep up with these changes. With this, it would be an advantage if you equip yourself with further education and training to take on and seek multiple roles as they arise. 

6. To Keep Your License, Renew Every Five Years

Once you’re a practicing professional, it’s your duty to track your renewal date and submit renewal documents on time. To avert delays, you may submit your renewal application a year before your license’s expiration. You might be ineligible to practice in your state if you don’t renew your license beforehand. 

The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) certification is renewed every five years to provide proof of knowledge expansion and continued competence in the nursing field. Update your online account information so the ANCC can provide further instructions if you have changed your name or address. 

Summing It Up

The journey may be challenging. However, with hard work and determination, finishing a nursing education and attaining the RN license are achievable dreams. Registered nurses know that their precious licenses will equip them with more than just clinical expertise. Rather, it will also invite opportunities to allow them to earn practical skills applicable to a wide array of responsibilities in various healthcare settings.

Today, registered nurses remain in demand as ever. Aside from career advancements and salary upgrades, the opportunity to help people and do meaningful lifelong work can be solid motivations to help a nurse attain and keep their licenses. 

Brice Bowden

Brice Bowden is a full-time blogger who focuses on producing content for students. Brice understands how challenging life can be for students, which is why he publishes blogs to help students make the most out of their experience.