Becoming a Nurse: Licensure
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a license as permission granted by a competent authority to engage in an activity or business that is otherwise unlawful. License comes from the Latin word licēre, which means "to be permitted." A license gives you the freedom to act.
Both registered and practical nurses need to be licensed to practice nursing. Licensure assists in assuring that nurses meet the minimum requirements to safely practice in the state or states in which they maintain licensure.
Requirements for Licensure
While some states allow you to work for a brief period (usually about 60 days) prior to your passing your licensure exam, others do not, and no state allows you to work as a nurse for any substantial amount of time without a license. Although requirements may vary per state, the minimum requirements for licensure as either a practical nurse or a registered nurse are:
- completing a license application
- graduating from, or verification of completion and eligibility for graduation from, a state-approved nursing program
- passing the National Council Licensure Examination for Practical Nurses (NCLEX-PN) or the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN)
- self-reporting of all felony convictions and plea agreements, as well as misdemeanor conviction of lesser included offenses arising from felony arrests. Local/state and federal background checks using current technology, such as fingerprinting, are performed to validate the self-report. Court documents, including the disposition of all cases, are usually required for candidates with criminal histories. Each state handles the presence of a criminal history differently, so you will need to check with your state board of nursing to see how you may be affected if you have a criminal history.
- self-reporting of any drug-related behavior that can impair the licensure candidate's ability to provide safe care. Each state handles drugrelated behavior differently, so you will need to check with your state board of nursing to see how you may be affected if you have a criminal history.
- self-reporting of any functional ability deficit that requires accommodation to perform essential nursing functions
- paying licensure fees (some states do not accept personal checks and only accept certified bank checks or money orders)
Other possible requirements, depending on the state or territory where the license candidate plans to work:
- minimum of at least 18 years of age (minimum may be 17 years of age for practical nurses)
- completion of the twelfth grade of schooling or its equivalent
- inclusion of 2" × 2" passport-type photo with license application
- transcripts from completed nursing program
- copy of your high school diploma (required by some states for practical nursing licensure)
- notarization of licensure application
- completion of state-mandated coursework or training, which may include coursework or training on child abuse, elder abuse, and/or intimate partner violence (domestic violence)
To learn about your state nursing licensure requirements, contact your state board of nursing, which can be found in Appendix A.
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