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Washington Nursing License Requirements

The Nursing Commission of the Washington State Department of Health issues licenses to qualified practical nurses, registered nurses, and nurse practitioners who wish to practice in the state of Washington. All nurses begin the path to licensure by completing an education in nursing appropriate to their scope of practice. Continue learning about how to become a licensed practical nurse, registered nurse, or nurse practitioner in Washington 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)

5 Steps to Become a Licensed Practical Nurse in Washington

1. Complete a Program in Practical Nursing.

To be eligible for licensure in Washington, practical nurses should complete an approved program in practical nursing.1 The Nursing Commission of the Washington State Department of Health grants approval to programs that meet the basic education requirements for practical nurse licensure in the state, a list of which can be accessed on the Department of Health website.2

2. Submit the Licensed Practical Nurse by Examination Application.

The Washington State Department of Health provides the Licensed Practical Nurse by Examination application for prospective practical nurses. All sections of this form must be completed thoroughly in blue or black ink to avoid processing delays.3 Graduates of Washington state programs must request official transcripts to be sent from the school attended to the Nursing Commission of the Washington State Department of Health, but should not need to request a Certificate of Completion as this form should be submitted by the program automatically upon graduation.3

Graduates of nursing programs not located in Washington State will need to request official transcripts to be sent as well as a completed paper copy of the Certificate of Completion, which is included in the application packet.3

3. Register for the National Council Licensure Examination for Practical Nurses.

After submitting the application, candidates should register for the National Council Licensure Examination for Practical Nurses (NCLEX-PN).3 Passage of the exam is a prerequisite for licensure in Washington State.3 Pearson VUE, a third-party testing company, is used by the Washington Nursing Commission for registration and testing for the NCLEX-PN.3 Registration must, therefore, be completed through Pearson VUE.4

4. Complete the Required State and Federal Background Checks, If Selected.

Two background checks are required for applicants for licensure as practical nurses in Washington who are either from out of state or who may have criminal histories, the state background check through the Washington State Patrol and the national background check through the Federal Bureau of Investigation.3 Applicants selected for the background checks will be notified.3 Both background checks are fingerprint-based and must be completed on fingerprint cards provided by the Washington State Department of Health.3 If required, the cards will be sent to applicants after the application for licensure has been submitted, along with instructions on completing the process.3 Out-of-state applicants who meet all other requirements for licensure may be issued a temporary practice permit pending background check results.3

5. Sit for the NCLEX-PN.

After a candidate has received an Authorization to Test letter, he or she may schedule and sit for the NCLEX-PN. Exam results are typically known within 24 hours and successful candidates will be able to retrieve license information shortly thereafter through the Washington Department of Health website, with a paper license to follow within seven to 10 business days.3 Unsuccessful applicants will receive notification by mail seven to 10 business days following the examination, as well as further information on re-taking the exam.5

5 Steps to Become a Registered Nurse in Washington

1. Graduate from a Program in Registered Nursing.

Graduation from a program in registered nursing is the first step to obtaining a registered nurse license in Washington. If located in the state of Washington, the program completed should have approval from the Nursing Commission of the Washington State Department of Health.1 A list of programs holding such approval is available on the Department of Health website.2

2. Submit the Registered Nurse by Examination Application.

The Registered Nurse by Examination Application must be submitted to apply for initial licensure by examination.3 Applicants should be careful to complete the form thoroughly and use blue or black ink to avoid delays in processing.3 Candidates who graduated from a nursing program in Washington State should not need to have their school complete the Certificate of Completion as this should be automatically submitted by the school upon graduation.3 In-state candidates will, however, be required to request that the school submit official transcripts directly to the Nursing Commission of the Washington State Department of Health.3

Candidates who graduated from a program outside of the state of Washington will need to request the school attended to complete a paper copy of the Certificate of Completion, located in the application packet, as well as send in official transcripts.3

3. Register for the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses.

Immediately after submitting the Registered Nurse by Examination Application, candidates for licensure should register for the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN).3 Candidates must pass this exam to qualify for a license.3 The Nursing Commission of the Washington State Department of Health relies on a third-party testing service, Pearson VUE, to administer and score the NCLEX-RN.3 Thus, candidates should complete registration through Pearson VUE, which can be done online.4

4. Complete the Required State and Federal Background Checks, If Selected.

Selected applicants, particularly out-of-state applicants and those who may have criminal record histories, will be required to complete a Washington State background check through the Washington State Patrol and a national background check through the Federal Bureau of Investigation.3 If a background check is required, the applicant will be notified.3 If selected, candidates must complete the fingerprint-based background checks on fingerprint cards that will be mailed by the Washington State Department of Health.3 Out-of-state applicants who meet all other requirements for licensure may be issued a temporary practice permit pending background check results.3

5. Sit for the NCLEX-RN.

An Authorization to Test letter will be mailed to candidates deemed eligible to sit for the NCLEX-RN. Generally, the results of the exam are known within 24 hours and candidates will be able to check license issuance within a short time frame on the Washington Department of Health website.3 A paper license will follow within seven to 10 business days by regular mail.3 Applicants who do not pass the exam will be notified by regular mail seven to 10 business days after the exam attempt and will receive further information on how to re-take the exam.5

5 Steps to Become a Nurse Practitioner in Washington

1. Earn an Active Registered Nursing License in Washington State.

Nurse practitioners in Washington must first become licensed as registered nurses.5 Therefore, future nurse practitioners should prepare by completing a program in registered nursing and passing the NCLEX-RN.

2. Graduate from a Program in Advanced Nursing.

Prospective Washington nurse practitioners must graduate from an advanced nursing education program that is accredited by an organization recognized by either the Council of Higher Education Accreditation or the United States Department of Education.5 Master’s and doctoral degree programs within the state that have been approved by the Nursing Commission of the Washington State Department of Health are also available on the Department of Health website.2 Note that nurse practitioners must apply for an initial license in Washington State within one year of graduating from the program, or additional licensure requirements may become necessary.5

3. Obtain National Certification as a Nurse Practitioner.

The Washington State Department of Health requires that prospective nurse practitioners obtain and maintain national certification to be eligible for licensure in Washington.5 The certification must be on the basis of an exam administered by a recognized accredited certifying body.5 A list of acceptable organizations for the examination certification credential is available in the Washington Administrative Code.5

4. Submit the Advanced Practice Registered Nurse Application.

The Washington State Department of Health provides the Advanced Practice Registered Nurse Application for prospective nurse practitioners. Applicants must request that evidence of national certification be sent directly from the certifying organization to the Washington Nursing Commission; likewise, official transcripts from the graduate nursing program attended must be sent from the school directly to the Washington Nursing Commission.7

Nurse practitioners may apply for prescriptive authority at the same time as initial licensure. Those who desire prescriptive authority must also complete Section 5: Pharmacology Education and Section 7: Prescriptive Authority Attestation found on the application form.7 Note that 30 contact hours of pharmacotherapeutic education are required to qualify for prescriptive authority.5 Prescriptive authority also applies to controlled substances on Schedules II through V, but not Schedule I; dispensing controlled substances requires an additional registration with the Federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).5,8 Nurse practitioners who do not choose to request prescriptive authority at the time of application may do so later by submitting these sections of the application form to the Nursing Commission.7

5. Complete State and Federal Background Checks, If Selected.

Candidates selected for mandatory background checks prior to licensure in Washington will need to complete two background checks, the state background check through the Washington State Patrol and the national background check through the Federal Bureau of Investigation.7 Out-of-state or other applicants who are selected for the background checks will receive notification from the Washington State Department of Health.7 The fingerprint-based background checks must be completed on the forms provided by the Washington State Department of Health, which are mailed to selected applicants following receipt of the initial application.7 Out-of-state applicants who meet all other requirements for licensure may be issued a temporary practice permit pending background check results.7

Washington Nursing Associations

Nursing associations with a focus on Washington State can offer current and future nurses opportunities for professional networking, continuing education, and employment openings.

Washington Nursing Salary

OccupationNumber EmployedAverage Annual Salary
Nursing Assistants26,530$30,150
Licensed Practical Nurses and Licensed Vocational Nurses7,250$50,740
Registered Nurses55,350$80,120
Nurse Practitioners2,660$107,400

Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics as of May 2016.9,10,11,12

Job Search Advice

  1. Have a positive attitude.
  2. Invest in your own professional development.
  3. Volunteer in professional development opportunities and your community.
  4. Seek opportunities in continuing your education.
  5. Become involved in your professional organization.”

-Tami Wheeldon RN, BSN, CEN is the Education Committee Chair of the Washington State Emergency Nurses Association

References:
1. Revised Code of Washington Chapter 18.79: Nursing Care
2. Washington State Department of Health: Approved Nursing Programs in the State of Washington
3. Washington State Department of Health: Licensed Practical Nurse by Examination Trained inside United States Application Packet
4. Pearson VUE: The NCLEX Examination
5. Washington Administrative Code Chapter 246-840: Practical and Registered Nursing
6. Washington State Department of Health: Registered Nurse by Examination Application Packet
7. Washington State Department of Health: ARNP With or Without Prescriptive Authority Application Packet
8. US Department of Justice Drug Enforcement Administration: Application for Registration Under Controlled Substance Act of 1970
9. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment and Wages, Nursing Assistants: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes311014.htm
10. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment and Wages, Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational Nurses: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes292061.htm
11. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment and Wages, Registered Nurses: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes291141.htm
12. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment and Wages, Nurse Practitioners: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes291171.htm