Nursing Licensure Bodies

Many professions in the U.S. require licensure as a condition of employment, and nursing is the second largest licensed occupation in the country. Nursing licensure bodies are governed at the state level by the state board of nursing (BON) but the standards are set at the highest level by The National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN). This allows states to easily develop reciprocal licenses if a nurse wishes to relocate, work as a travel nurse or engage in a similar interstate occupation within the profession.

Each level of the nursing profession has its own license as well as renewal requirements. Here’s a breakdown of what nursing licensure bodies require for each type of nurse; keep in mind there will be slight variations depending on the state in which you plan to practice.

Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) Licensure

Although you don’t need to hold a license to become a CNA, you will need to become certified. This will entail completing a specific minimum number of classroom hours (typically under 100 hours) in a state-approved CNA program before you are allowed to take the state competency exam. In most states, you’ll also need to complete a statement or pass a background check which will verify your physical and mental status and whether you have any felony convictions.

The CNA certification exam will include a practical exam to test your hands-on patient care skills as well as a theoretical exam to test your overall knowledge of basic patient care practices.

Although a CNA falls into the Unlicensed Assistive Personnel (UAP) category, they perform tasks vital to ensure the well being of their patients. Many become a certified CNA as the first step in their nursing career, as the minimal training requirements allow employment while they continue their education to become a registered nurse.

Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) or Licensed Vocational Nurse (LVN) Licensure

A licensed practical nurse (LPN) is referred to as a licensed vocational nurse (LVN) in the states of California and Texas, but the position is the same. An LPN is an entry-level role who works under the direction of a nurse or doctor. In most states, an LPN has a one-year training program which includes some clinical experience. To become licensed, an LPN must pass the National Council Licensure Examination–Practical Nurse (NCLEX-PN). You must submit your application to the state nursing licensure body in advance to show you meet the requirements regarding your completed education before you can register for the test; the testing fee of $200 is paid at this time.

Once you receive acknowledgment of your validated eligibility from your state BON, you’ll receive an authorization to test (ATT) which will tell you when the testing times and locations will be. You may then schedule your testing time; be sure to bring your ATT letter and identification when you go to the testing facility. The exam itself is between 85 and 205 questions long and has a time limit of five hours. You’ll usually receive your test results in about a month.

Registered Nurse (RN) Licensure

To become a registered nurse, you must complete either an associate’s or a bachelor’s degree program in nursing, which includes clinical hours as well as class time. The nursing licensure bodies are the same as those outlined in the LPN section, but the test itself is different. The NCLEX-RN exam is given under the same guidelines and requirements as the NCLEX-PN. The length of the exam is between 75 and 265 questions, which must be completed within a six hour time limit. Again, it will be approximately one month before you receive the results of your exam.

Advanced Nursing Licensure

When you decide to earn your master’s degree in nursing you may choose to practice in a specialty area instead of working as an RN. There are four areas to choose from, and each has the same basic criteria to qualify to take the test: you must have earned your master’s degree, have RN experience and have worked a specific number of clinical hours in your chosen specialty. The four advanced titles are:

  • Nurse Practitioner (NP)
  • Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS)
  • Certified Midwife
  • Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA)

Keep in mind that nursing licensure bodies are slightly different from state to state. You should check with your state licensing board when you enroll in your classes to determine what requirements your state has for your chosen nursing degree. For example, to become an LPN is Washington state, you must complete a minimum of 85 classroom hours; the same license in Michigan requires the classes be taken within the state.

In California, the exams are given six days a week and you may apply for an interim permit to work in a supervised nursing capacity while you wait for the results of your RN examination. In New Jersey, your application for license by examination must be notarized and include a passport photo; you must also submit proof of citizenship or your passport. The most important thing to remember is to choose an accredited school for your nursing education because many employers prefer to hire only graduates of accredited programs, as these have passed rigorous scrutiny for program content and quality.

Licensure Renewal

Once you’ve become licensed in your state, you’ll be able to practice for a set period of time, usually two years. Most state nursing licenses must be renewed every two years, and if you let this time period lapse, you may need to take the exam again, and will not be allowed to practice until you renew your license.


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