How to Earn Your Nursing Certification and License

A license is a document which is granted by a state board of nursing and gives you legal authority to work at a specific level of practice. Nurses at the LPN/LVN, RN and APRN levels each require a different kind of license, and each license corresponds to a different level of education.

Certifications or certificates are awarded by independent, usually nonprofit professional associations. Certification allows nurses to demonstrate their knowledge and skills in a specific field according. The professional standards and requirements for each type of certification are set by the professional association that awards it.

How to earn a certification in nursing

Certifications are awarded in specialized fields by professional organizations. Both RNs and APNs can earn certifications. However, specialty certifications for RNs are voluntary while some APN certifications are required in order for advanced practice nurses to earn their licenses.

RN certifications

RNs can usually earn specialty certifications in their field of practice after several years of clinical experience. There are numerous types of certifications in a variety of specialties. Most of these certifications are offered by professional associations, however, a few are also offered by universities and colleges.

Although specific requirements for each type of certification vary, most associations require nurses to have a current RN license as well as hundred or even thousands of hours of work experience in their specialization. Most certifying associations also require RNs to take a certification exam, and some even require them to complete courses through a certification program before they can register for the exam.

APN certifications

Unlike RN licensure, most states require APNs to first earn a professional certification in their field of specialization before they are eligible to receive their APN license. Additionally, each APN specialization requires a different type of certification, and these are typically offered by different associations.

For example, a nurse anesthetist must first earn certification from the National Board on Certification and Recertification of Nurse Anesthetists (NBCRNA) while a nurse practitioner can earn various types of certification from several organizations like the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners or the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC).

There are no APN certifications that can be earned entirely over the Internet. However, many credentialing organizations as well as for-profit web companies provide online certification preparation materials such as online review classes and practice exams.

Nursing certification resources

The best nursing career at any level can be enhanced by professional certifications whether they are voluntary or mandatory. And although certification online is not an option, there are numerous websites that provide valuable information about the available types of certification, certification requirements and how to prepare for certification exams. A few of the most common and helpful certification associations includes:

The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) is the credentialing branch of the American Nursing Association (ANA) and claims to be the largest credentialing organization in the world.

The American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN) is the largest specialty credentialing association and provides some of the most common certifications for both RNs and APNs such as the CMC, CSC and ACNPC.

The Accreditation Board for Specialty Nursing Certification (ABSNC) is a part of the American Board of Nursing Specialties and is responsible accrediting the associations that offer specialized certifications.

The National Board of Certification & Recertification for Nurse Anesthetists (NBCRNA) is the organization that certifies nurse anesthetists.

The American Midwifery Certification Board provides the CNM certification for APNs and the CM for RNs who specialize in nurse midwifery.

How to get your nursing license

There are 2 important factors that determine what you must do to get your license: the type of license that want to earn and the state in which you intend to practice. Although the specific details of licensure requirements may differ from state to state, the overall requirements are usually quite similar. However, the requirements for different levels such as  LPN, RN and APRN are very different.

LPN/LVN licensure

To earn an LPN or LVN license, you must first complete a 1-year practical nurse training program and earn your certificate of completion. An LPN certificate of completion is not the same thing as nursing certifications or certification programs. Instead, a certificate of completion is simply an official document that states that a student has completed an accredited LPN or LVN program.

After you earn your LPN certificate of completion, you must usually apply for permission to take the NCLEX-PN exam with your state’s board of nursing. After you take the exam, you usually have to submit your exam results along with a licensure application and application fee to your state’s board. If you have passed the exam, paid your fees and do not have a criminal background, you will usually receive your LPN license in a few weeks to a few months.

RN licensure

To earn an RN license, you must first earn an accredited nursing diploma, associates in nursing (ADN) or bachelors in nursing (BSN) degree. After you have completed this educational requirement, you must usually apply for authorization to sit for the NCLEX-RN in the state in which you want to practice.

After you pass the NCLEX-RN exam, you typically have to submit your test results along with a criminal background check, another licensure application and an application fee of $100 to several hundred dollars to your state board. If your application is approved, you will usually receive your official RN license in the mail in several weeks to a couple months.

APRN licensure

The APRN licensure process is usually more complicated than for LPN or RN licenses. To earn your APRN license, you must first meet all of the requirements named above for RN licensure. Most states require you to have a current RN license to be eligible to apply for an APRN license.

Every state board requires APN applicants to first complete an MSN or doctor of nursing practice (DNP) program at a 4-year university. Although it does not matter whether you earned your degree on a traditional campus or through online training at the graduate level, state boards do check to ensure that your APN is from an accredited school.

Finally, applicants for an APN license must also earn an advanced certification in their field of specialization before they are eligible to receive their license. This usually involves earning a certain number of hands-on clinical practice hours as well as passing a specialty-specific certification exam.

Some state education boards also require you to have a specific number of clinical practice hours as well. However, this is not a problem for most applicants because their certification’s requirements also usually require them to have at least as many clinical practice hours as the state board of nursing.

Nursing licenses by state

To see the specific licensure requirements for each level of practice in your state, visit your state’s board of nursing website:

Alabama: Alabama State Board of Nursing

Alaska: Alaska State Board of Nursing

Arizona: Arizona State Board of Nursing

Arkansas: Arkansas State Board of Nursing

California: California State Board of Registered Nursing

Colorado: Colorado Board of Nursing

Connecticut: Connecticut State Board of Examiners for Nursing

Delaware: Delaware State Board of Nursing

District of Columbia: District of Columbia State Board of Nursing

Florida: Florida State Board of Nursing

Georgia: Georgia State Board of Nursing

Hawaii: Hawaii State Board of Nursing

Idaho: Idaho State Board of Nursing

Illinois Department of Regulation: Illinois Department of Regulation

Indiana: Indiana State Board of Nursing

Iowa: Iowa State Board of Nursing

Kansas: Kansas State Board of Nursing

Kentucky: Kentucky State Board of Nursing

Louisiana: Louisiana State Board of Nursing

Maine: Maine State Board of Nursing

Maryland: Maryland State Board of Nursing

Massachusetts: Massachusetts State Board of Nursing

Michigan: Michigan State Board of Nursing

Minnesota: Minnesota State Board of Nursing

Mississippi: Mississippi State Board of Nursing

Missouri: Missouri State Board of Nursing

Nebraska: Nebraska State Board of Nursing

Nevada: Nevada State Board of Nursing

New Hampshire: New Hampshire State Board of Nursing

New Jersey: New Jersey State Board of Nursing

New Mexico: New Mexico State Board of Nursing

New York: New York State Board of Nursing

North Carolina: North Carolina State Board of Nursing

North Dakota: North Dakota State Board of Nursing

Ohio: Ohio State Board of Nursing

Oklahoma: Oklahoma State Board of Nursing

Oregon: Oregon State Board of Nursing

Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State Board of Nursing

Rhode Island: Rhode Island State Board of Nursing

South Carolina: South Carolina State Board of Nursing

South Dakota: South Dakota State Board of Nursing

Tennessee: Tennessee State Board of Nursing

Texas: Tennessee Board of Nurse Examiners

Utah: Utah State Board of Nursing

Vermont: Vermont State Board of Nursing

Virginia: Virginia State Board of Nursing

Washington: Washington State Nursing Care Quality Assurance Commission

West Virginia: West Virginia Board of Examiners for Registered Professional Nurses

Wisconsin: Wisconsin State Board of Nursing

Wyoming: Wyoming State Board of Nursing