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California Nursing License Requirements

Prospective nurses in California can pursue multiple categories of licensing, which include licensed vocational nurse (a similar level of practice to licensed practical nurses in other states), registered nurse, and licensed nurse practitioner. All prospective nurses in California begin their path to licensure by completing education programs specialized to provide the skills and knowledge required for nursing occupations. Read more about the licensure requirements for the three major categories of nurse licensure in California below.

» How to become a licensed vocational nurse (requires completion of a training program)
» How to become a registered nurse (requires an associate’s or bachelor’s degree)
» How to become a nurse practitioner (requires a master’s degree)

3 Steps to Become a Licensed Vocational Nurse in California

1. Take a Licensed Vocational Nurse Training Program.

Licensure as a licensed vocational nurse requires the completion of a training program. Most licensed vocational nurses (47 percent) complete the required training program at a community college, although training programs that meet the requirements are also available in adult education programs, private schools, and occupational centers.1 The program completed for licensure must be approved by the state of California for licensure by examination; approved programs are listed on the California Board of Vocational Nursing and Psychiatric Technicians website.2

2. Submit Fingerprints for a Criminal Background Check.

California requires all prospective nurses to submit fingerprints for the purpose of completing a criminal background check. There are two acceptable methods of submitting fingerprints for review: The California Live Scan Application Process or the Fingerprint Card (Hard Card) Application Process.3 With either process, fingerprints are submitted both to the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

California Live Scan Application Process

The Live Scan application process is recommended for applicants living in or near California, and may take less time than the alternate hard copy method to process.3 To complete the Live Scan application candidates submit the Request for Live Scan Service Applicant Submission form in person at a Live Scan office. Applicants will receive a copy of the form completed at the office which must be submitted to the California Board of Vocational Nursing & Psychiatric Technicians as proof of compliance.3 Copies of this form can also be downloaded from the California Board of Vocational Nursing & Psychiatric Technicians website.3

Applicant Fingerprint Card (Hard Card)

The second method of complying with the fingerprint background check requirements is through a hard copy fingerprint card. The hard card can be obtained from the Board and completed at a local law enforcement agency in California or another state.3 Note that completed cards should never be folded.3 The completed card should be mailed to the California Board of Vocational Nursing & Psychiatric Technicians along with the current fees, which are listed on the Board website.3

3. Collaborate with the Vocational Nursing Program to Submit an Application.

Applications for licensed vocational nurses must be submitted by the Director of the vocational nursing program that the candidate completed.4 Candidates for licensure must contact the program director for their school to receive further instructions on signing and completing the required forms with school approval.4

4 Steps to Become a Registered Nurse in California

1. Complete a Registered Nursing Education Program.

To ensure eligibility for licensure, it is best that prospective registered nurses complete a nursing education program that is approved by the California Board of Registered Nursing.5 If any part of the required instruction outlined by the California Board of Registered Nursing is completed at an unapproved program in California, the Board will not count the instruction and deny qualification for the National Council Licensing Examination.6 Approved education programs for registered nurses culminate in the award of at least an associate’s degree, but extend to programs culminating in a bachelor’s degree or entry level master’s degree as well.5 Programs approved by the California Board of Registered Nursing can be viewed on the Board’s website.5

2. Apply to the California Board of Registered Nurses for Licensure.

The California Board of Registered Nurses suggests that applicants begin the application process for registered nurse licensure six to eight weeks prior to graduation from an approved nursing program.7 The California Board of Registered Nursing Application for Licensure by Examination is the appropriate form to use.3 Along with the application, candidates for licensure must submit official transcripts from the nursing licensure program completed, a recent 2 inch by 2 inch passport-style photograph, and appropriate fees.3 Candidates must also complete a fingerprint background check, about which process more information can be found below.

Note that if desired, candidates for registered nurse licensure can request a temporary permit that enables practice under the direct supervision of a registered nurse pending passage of the required exam.3 If an interim permit is desired, candidates may request the permit on the Application for Licensure by Examination by paying an additional fee.3

3. Submit Fingerprints for a Criminal Background Check.

All candidates for nurse licensure in California must submit fingerprints so that a criminal background check can be completed. There are two acceptable methods of submitting fingerprints for review: The California Live Scan Application Process or the Fingerprint Card (Hard Card) Application Process.3 Fingerprints are submitted both to the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation under either method.

California Live Scan Application Process

The Live Scan application process can take less time than the alternate hard copy method and is recommended for applicants living in or near California.3 Candidates submit the Request for Live Scan Service Applicant Submission form in person at a Live Scan office. Applicants will receive and submit to the California Board of Registered Nursing a copy of the form completed at the office, which shows proof of compliance.3 Copies of the required form can also be downloaded from the California Board of Registered Nursing.3

Applicant Fingerprint Card (Hard Card)

The alternate route for complying with the fingerprint background check requirements is by completing a hard copy fingerprint card. The hard card can be obtained from the California Board of Registered Nursing and completed at any local law enforcement agency offering fingerprinting services.3 It is important not to fold completed cards.3 The completed card should be mailed to the California Board of Registered Nursing along with the current fees, which are listed on the Board website.3

4. Pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses.

Registered nurses in California must pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) to become eligible for licensure. The permission of the California Board of Registered Nursing to take the exam must be received in the form of an official Authorization to Test prior to attempting testing.8 This permission can only be issued after the Board has reviewed all application documents, including official school transcripts and background check results.8 Once the Authorization to Test is received candidates can schedule the exam.8 Note, however, that candidates are permitted to complete a preliminary registration, if desired, with Pearson VUE (the company that the California Board of Registered Nursing uses to administer the NCLEX-RN) without the Authorization to Test.8

If the candidate is not successful at passing the NCLEX-RN on the first attempt, he or she will receive a Candidate Performance Report that summarizes areas where the candidate should undertake further study.8 The candidate must then apply to the California Board of Registered Nursing for permission to repeat the exam using the Request for Reapply/Repeat Examination form.8 Note that additional fees are applicable to reapply/repeat the examination, as outlined on the repeat application form.8 Once the candidate successfully passes the NCLEX-RN, he or she will receive nurse licensure.8

5 Steps to Become a Nurse Practitioner in California

1. Become a California Registered Nurse.

Prospective nurse practitioners must first obtain active licensure as a California registered nurse.9 Active licensed registered nurses in other states should complete the Application for California RN Licensure by Endorsement prior to applying for nurse practitioner licensure.9

2. Take an Approved Nurse Practitioner Program.

The California Board of Registered Nursing qualifies programs as meeting the educational standards and requirements for prospective nurse practitioners.10 A full list of approved programs for nurse practitioner preparation is available on the Board’s website.10 Note that if any portion of the required education is completed at an unapproved program, the Board may deny licensure.6

3. Obtain National Certification as a Nurse Practitioner.

If a candidate has already completed a nurse practitioner program outside of the state of California that is not approved by the California Board of Registered Nursing and is not seeking California licensure by equivalency, candidates may be required to obtain national certification.11 The Board provides a list of organizations and associations that have equivalent certification requirements to the Board’s standards with the application for nurse practitioner licensure.9

4. Apply to the Board for Nurse Practitioner Licensure.

The California Board of Registered Nursing provides the General Instructions and Application Requirements for Nurse Practitioner Certification form for requesting nurse practitioner licensure.9 This form must be completed by the applicant and submitted to the Board. The applicant must also request that the academic program completed for practice as a nurse practitioner complete and submit the Verification of Nurse Practitioner Academic Program form as well as official transcripts for the program completed.9

5. Apply for a Nurse Practitioner Furnishing Number.

Nurse practitioners must apply for a furnishing number if intending to prescribe or furnish drugs or medical devices.12 To be eligible for obtaining a furnishing number, nurse practitioners must have completed an approved advanced pharmacology course at a nationally accredited academic program at the master’s level or above.12 Candidates who meet these requirements should complete the Instructions and Application for Applying for a Nurse Practitioner Furnishing Number form.12

California Nursing Associations

Current and prospective nurses in California may find it helpful to join one or more of the nursing associations and organizations in the state, which can provide continuing education and networking opportunities.

California Nursing Salary

Occupation Number Employed Average Annual Salary
Nursing Assistants 99,500 $29,400
Licensed Practical Nurses and Licensed Vocational Nurses 61,950 $51,170
Registered Nurses 249,980 $94,120
Nurse Practitioners 9,720 $98,970

Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics as of May 2012.

References:
1. California Board of Vocational Nursing & Psychiatric Technicians: Licensed Vocational Nurses
2. California Board of Vocational Nursing & Psychiatric Technicians: California Approved Schools
3. California Board of Registered Nursing: Application Fee Schedule Examination
4. California Board of Vocational Nursing & Psychiatric Technicians: Vocational Nurse Licensure Application Forms
5. California Board of Registered Nursing: Approved RN Programs
6. California Board of Registered Nursing: Unapproved Nursing Programs Operating in California
7. California Board of Registered Nursing: Steps to Become a CA RN
8. California Board of Registered Nursing: Applicant Frequently Asked Questions
9. California Board of Registered Nursing: General Instructions and Application Requirements for Nurse Practitioner Certification
10. California Board of Registered Nursing: Advanced Practice Programs
11. California Board of Registered Nursing: Title 16, California Code of Regulations
12. California Board of Registered Nursing: Instructions for Applying for a Nurse Practitioner Furnishing Number