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Like doctors, dentists and other highly skilled healthcare workers, nurses must be licensed before they can practice in any state. It's possible to apply for licensing in another state and practice there, but nurses who plan to move between states must transfer their existing license. Although it takes time, it's a relatively straightforward process.
Although each state's board of nursing sets its own requirements for licensing, nurses who graduate from accredited training programs anywhere in the country receive very similar training. They must also pass the same certification examinations – the National Council Licensure Examination for either registered nurses or practical nurses, known as the NCLEX-RN, or the NCLEX-PN. This means that state boards of nursing can reasonably assume that nurses licensed in other states would meet their own licensing standards. The process of transferring a license from one state's jurisdiction to another's is called endorsement.
The endorsement process is generally similar in each state. Nurses who are planning to move to a new state must contact that state's board of nursing and request endorsement forms. In some states, they can download the forms from the board's website or fill them out online. Nurses must hold a current, unrestricted license in their state and pass a background check. Many states require fingerprints for verification purposes. Processing time can vary widely between states, so it's prudent to apply well in advance of moving. If nurses require licensing immediately for employment purposes, most states will grant a temporary license while the endorsement process is under way.
Nursing Licensure Compact
As of 2013, 24 states belong to the Nursing Licensure Compact. This initiative by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing enables nurses with a license in one participating state to practice in any other participating state. As long as the nurse maintains a valid license in her state of residence, no further paperwork is required to practice in another member state. A nurse who moves her permanent residence to another state, regardless of whether it belongs to the Compact, will still need to complete the endorsement process. When moving from one Compact state to another, the old license remains valid for 30 days.
Obtaining a nursing license in the new jurisdiction is only part of the process. Each state board of nursing sets its own requirements for maintaining a nursing license, including rules about continuing education. It's the nurse's responsibility to research this information and comply with her new state's regulations. Each state also has its own scope of practice for nurses and its own code of ethics, which the nurse must become familiar with and adhere to.
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