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North Carolina Nursing License Requirements

The North Carolina Board of Nursing is the primary licensing body for nurses practicing in the state of North Carolina. North Carolina recognizes and licenses nurses at the practical nurse, registered nurse, and nurse practitioner levels, as well as in other specialty areas. All nurses in North Carolina begin their professional careers by obtaining an education in nursing. Find out more about the licensing process for North Carolina nurses by reading below.

» How to become a licensed practical 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)

4 Steps to Become a Licensed Practical Nurse in North Carolina

1. Earn a Degree or Diploma in Practical Nursing.

Prospective North Carolina practical nurses should graduate with a diploma from a nursing program approved by the North Carolina Board of Nursing.1 To meet licensure requirements and gain approval such programs are typically three semesters in length.2 A list of approved practical nursing programs in North Carolina is available.2 Prospective practical nurses can also view statistical information on approved programs.3 Note that the North Carolina Board of Nursing will also recognize diplomas granted by programs in other states, provided such a program is approved or accredited by another state board of nursing.4

2. Complete a Criminal Background Check.

North Carolina requires all applicants for practical nurse licensure by examination to complete a criminal background check.5 Applicants who reside in the state of North Carolina must use the LiveScan fingerprint process approved by the North Carolina Board of Nursing; out of state applicants will receive fingerprint cards and further instructions via mail following application for licensure.5 In state applicants should visit the LiveScan Application portal on the North Carolina Board of Nursing website to begin the criminal background check.6

After submitting the online application, applicants can print out the required forms and bring these to a law enforcement office to have fingerprint impressions taken.6 Once the fingerprint impressions are complete, they should be forwarded to the North Carolina Board of Nursing by mail, fax, or email.6 Applicants should be sure to include the completed Electronic Fingerprint Submission Release of Information form, included with the online fingerprint application, with the fingerprint impressions to avoid delays in processing.6

3. Submit the Application for Licensure.

The North Carolina Board of Nursing uses an online application process for initial licensure by examination, known as the Nurse Gateway.7 Note that graduates of nursing programs located within the state of North Carolina are not required to forward official transcripts unless otherwise requested, as the program director should electronically verify completion of the program on graduation.8 Graduates of programs located in other states should request that transcripts be forwarded directly to the North Carolina Board of Nursing.8

4. Complete Registration For and Take the National Council Licensure Examination for Practical Nurses.

Practical nurses in North Carolina must earn a passing score on the National Council Licensure Examination for Practical Nurses (NCLEX-PN) as a prerequisite to licensure.1 The North Carolina Board of Nursing contracts a third party company, Pearson VUE, to administer and score the NCLEX-PN.9,10 Candidates should complete an initial registration for the exam through the Pearson VUE website so that once the initial application for licensure is reviewed an Authorization to Test and sit for the exam can be issued.10

Applicants who pass the NCLEX-PN will typically see license information posted to the North Carolina Board of Nursing website within five business days.10 Applicants who are not successful on the first attempt at the NCLEX-PN will be notified by mail within thirty days of the exam attempt and may apply to re-take the exam.10 Note that the criminal background check portion of the application process does not need to be repeated unless it has been longer than one year since the initial background check was completed.11 The North Carolina Board of Nursing does not place restrictions on the number of times that an applicant for licensure can attempt the NCLEX-PN.8

4 Steps to Become a Registered Nurse in North Carolina

1. Earn a Degree or Diploma in Registered Nursing.

To become licensed in North Carolina, registered nurses must complete an associate’s degree, diploma, or Bachelor of Science in Nursing.12 Most such programs are two to four years in length.12 Lists of North Carolina programs at each level that hold approval from the North Carolina Board of Nursing are available.12 Future registered nurses planning their education may also view statistics on approved programs through the North Carolina Board of Nursing website.3 Note that the North Carolina Board of Nursing will also recognize diplomas granted by programs in other states, provided such a program is approved or accredited by another state board of nursing.4

2. Complete a Criminal Background Check.

Prospective registered nurses must complete a criminal background check in North Carolina before a license can be issued.5 Prospective registered nurses living in North Carolina are required to use the LiveScan fingerprint process to comply with this requirement; nurses living outside of the state will receive fingerprint cards and fingerprint instructions by mail after the initial application for a license is submitted.5 Candidates who are living in the state should visit the LiveScan Application portal on the North Carolina Board of Nursing website to initiate the background check.6

Once the online LiveScan application has been submitted, applicants will be able to print out the completed forms to bring to a law enforcement office for fingerprint impressions to be taken.6 The completed fingerprint impressions should be forwarded by mail, fax, or email to the North Carolina Board of Nursing.6 It is important to remember to include the completed Electronic Fingerprint Submission Release of Information form, found in the online fingerprint application, with the fingerprint impressions to avoid delays in processing.6

3. Submit the Application for Licensure.

The initial application for registered nurse licensure by examination is completed through the Nurse Gateway, the online licensing portal for the North Carolina Board of Nursing.7 Note that licensure candidates who graduated from a nursing program located in North Carolina are not required to submit official transcripts unless otherwise directed by the North Carolina Board of Nursing, as the program director should automatically submit transcript information electronically following graduation.8 Graduates of programs located in other states should request that transcripts be forwarded directly to the North Carolina Board of Nursing.8

4. Complete Registration For and Take the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses.

A passing score on the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) must be earned before a registered nurse can be licensed in North Carolina.1 Pearson VUE, a third party company, is used by the North Carolina Board of Nursing to deliver and assess the NCLEX-RN.10 The initial registration for the exam is therefore completed through the Pearson VUE website.9. After the initial application for licensure is reviewed, an Authorization to Test and sit for the exam can be issued.10

Candidates who are successful on the NCLEX-RN will usually be able to see license information updated on the North Carolina Board of Nursing website within five business days.10 Those who do not earn a passing score will receive notification within thirty days via regular mail, along with instructions for applying to re-take the NCLEX-RN.10 Note that the criminal background check portion of the application process does not need to be repeated unless it has been longer than one year since the initial background check was completed.11 The North Carolina Board of Nursing does not place restrictions on the number of times that an applicant for licensure can attempt the NCLEX-RN.8

6 Steps to Become a Nurse Practitioner in North Carolina

1. Become a Registered Nurse in North Carolina or a Compact State.

The North Carolina Board of Nursing requires nurse practitioners to maintain an active license in registered nursing either in North Carolina or a party state.1 This requires that prospective nurse practitioners first complete the appropriate education and earn a passing score on the NCLEX-RN.

2. Complete a Graduate Education in Nursing.

Nurse practitioners in North Carolina must obtain at least a master’s degree in nursing which includes at least 500 hours of clinical experience.1 The school offering the graduate program must be accredited by a national accrediting body.1 Listings of programs offering master’s and doctoral degrees in nursing in North Carolina are available through the North Carolina Board of Nursing website.13,14

3. Acquire National Credentials from a Certifying Association.

Nurse practitioners in North Carolina must acquire and maintain certification through a national certifying association.1 The certifying association must be recognized by the North Carolina Board of Nursing as a recognized body for the certification of nurse practitioners.1 A list of recognized associations is available on the North Carolina Board of Nursing website.15

4. Execute a Collaborative Practice Agreement.

Nurse practitioners working in North Carolina are required to work under an active collaborative practice agreement executed in partnership with a licensed physician at all times.1 The collaborative practice agreement must be in writing and signed by the nurse practitioner and collaborating physician(s), and must be reviewed on at least an annual basis.1 Nurse practitioners who intend to prescribe or dispense drugs or medical devices must ensure that the protocols for such activities are described in the collaborative practice agreement.1 Note that the collaborative practice agreement should be executed prior to applying for licensure as the collaborating physician’s information is required during the application process.16

5. Apply for a Nurse Practitioner’s License.

The North Carolina Board of Nursing provides an online portal for all applications for nurse practitioner registration and initial approval to practice.16 Nurse practitioners should compile all necessary information, including graduate program and certification information, for completing the online application.16 The North Carolina Board of Nursing recommends that applicants complete this process on a desktop computer as the site is not optimized for mobile devices.16

6. Register for Controlled Substances with the Drug Enforcement Administration, If Desired.

Nurse practitioners approved to practice by the North Carolina Board of Nursing are automatically granted prescriptive authority for both legend drugs and controlled substances consistent with the nurse practitioner’s education and certification.17 However, in order to prescribe controlled substances nurse practitioners must have a control number from the Federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).17 A control number can be requested by registering through the DEA Drug Diversion Program.18

North Carolina Nursing Associations

North Carolina nursing associations can offer current and future nurses at all levels opportunities for professional networking, continuing or advanced education, and career enrichment.

North Carolina Association of Nursing Students

North Carolina Emergency Nurses Association

North Carolina Nurses Association

North Carolina Organization of Nurse Leaders

School Nurse Association of North Carolina

North Carolina Nursing Salary

Occupation Number Employed Average Annual Salary
Nursing Assistants 53,150 $22,510
Licensed Practical Nurses and Licensed Vocational Nurses 16,370 $41,510
Registered Nurses 86,240 $58,760
Nurse Practitioners 3,290 $89,760

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

References:
1. North Carolina Administrative Code: Chapter 36 – Board of Nursing
2. North Carolina Board of Nursing: Approved Pre-Licensure Nursing Programs
3. North Carolina Board of Nursing: Nursing Education Program Statistics
4. North Carolina Board of Nursing: Programs Outside of North Carolina
5. North Carolina Board of Nursing: Criminal Background Checks
6. North Carolina Board of Nursing: LiveScan Application
7. North Carolina Board of Nursing: Nurse Gateway
8. North Carolina Board of Nursing: Examination Requirements
9. Pearson VUE: The NCLEX Examination
10. North Carolina Board of Nursing: Frequently Asked Questions – Examination
11. North Carolina Board of Nursing: Frequently Asked Questions – Live Scan
12. North Carolina Board of Nursing: Approved Pre-Licensure Nursing Programs – Registered Nurse Programs
13. North Carolina Board of Nursing: Universities Offering Master’s Degree Programs for Nurses in North Carolina
14. North Carolina Board of Nursing: Universities Offering Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing Programs in North Carolina
15. North Carolina Board of Nursing: APRN Requirements – Nurse Practitioner
16. North Carolina Board of Nursing: Registration and Initial Approval to Practice – Nurse Practitioner
17. North Carolina Board of Nursing: Nurse Practitioner Prescribing
18. US Department of Justice Drug Enforcement Administration: Application for Registration Under Controlled Substance Act of 1970