RN Licensure and Program Accreditation: What You Need to Know

Making the transition from licensed practical nurse (LPN) to registered nurse (RN) is a great career move right now because employment for RNs is growing faster than most other occupations, and RNs tend to earn more money and have greater upward mobility than LPNs. The increasing popularity of the nursing field mean stiff competition for top jobs. However, someone with advanced degree will have a better shot at getting a coveted role than someone with less education.

The chart below illustrates the U.S. nursing workforce between 1980 and 2008. While the numbers of nurses are increasing — including the number of licensed RNs — the demand for nursing employment across the board is increasing as well. Replacements are required for nurses who are near retirement age, and more nurses are in demand to care for the aging general population of the U.S.

Many schools now offer accredited LPN to RN bridge programs, which allow LPN graduates to earn an RN license quickly without repeating classes that are offered in both degree programs. Both the LPN and RN must take exams to work in healthcare environments; so, what is the difference between the licenses, and why is accreditation so important?

LPN vs. RN Educational Requirements

Students who decide to earn an LPN or an RN degree and license might learn that there is a large difference between the two programs and their outcomes. LPNs typically work under RNs in healthcare settings, as LPNs spend half the time in school and training as registered nurses. But, both LPNs and RNs must pass exams to practice their skills in any work setting.

Students can train to enter the healthcare field as an LPN, also called a licensed vocational nurse (LVN) in some states, within one year. LPN nursing schools and educational programs typically involve another year of study and training at a hospital, community college or technical vocational school.

Future RNs must attend at least two to three years in a registered nursing school to earn one of the following three credentials:

  • Associate‚Äôs degree in nursing
  • Bachelor of Science in nursing
  • Nursing diploma

Many students opting for the RN program choose the associate’s degree, which can take two to three years to complete. Once on the job, an RN can obtain more education through tuition reimbursement programs and college credit. This choice provides valuable hands-on experience in the field while earning an education.

LPNs and LVNs can achieve that same goal through an LPN-to-RN program. These programs often provide credit for previously completed course work. Additionally, some programs provide the opportunity to test out of some classes based upon nursing experience, helping students save time and money.

LPN and RN Exams

After earning a nursing degree through a state-approved program listed with the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN), nurse graduates must pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) to practice their skills.

  • LPN graduates must pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Practical Nurses (NCLEX-PN).
  • RN graduates must pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN).

Individual states administer this exam to qualifying candidates to measure student competencies needed to perform as an entry-level nurse. This exam is considered a capstone experience, so student nurses often are anxious about passing this exam, and a period of several months of full time studying for the exam is recommended before taking it.

The requirements for eligibility to take the NCLEX and to get a license are determined by the state board of nursing in each state. Candidates interested in information about eligibility and licensure requirements should contact the board of nursing where they wish to get a license. Once students contact their boards about eligibility, the following steps must be taken for both the LPN and RN certification:

  1. Once eligible, the student receives an Authorization to Test (ATT) letter. Each ATT letter is valid for a period of time specified by the board of nursing. Dates vary from 60 days to 365 days; with most hovering around 90 days.
  2. After receipt of the ATT letter, students can register for the exams at Pearson VUE by Internet or by phone, and must pay fee to take the exam. Do not schedule an appointment until Pearson VUE acknowledges your registration through an Acknowledgement of Receipt of Registration.
  3. Students then can schedule an appointment to take either the NCLEX-PN or the NCLEX-RN within the validity dates of their ATT letter. Those dates cannot be extended for any reason.

NCSBN advises candidates for both exams to read the Candidate Bulletin & Information to learn about any changes in routine or in scheduling or test centers. NCSBN also provides tools for candidates, such as state and territory abbreviations, tutorials, and answers to frequently asked questions (FAQs). They also provide information about a new program that allows practicing LPNs and RNs to practice both physically and electronically across “compact states” unless the nurse is under discipline or restriction.

The Nurse Licensure Compact

The Nurse Licensure Compact (NLC) allows nurses to practice across some state lines both physically and/or electronically through a streamlined process that provides licensure in multiple states without additional applications or fees. The state nursing board for any state can tell you whether that state participates in the NLC. The requirements for getting a multistate license are usually pretty standard.
Candidates can obtain a compact (multistate) license if they:

  • Legally reside in an NLC state
  • Hold an active RN or LPN or LVN nursing license in good standing
  • Declare a NLC state as a primary state of residency and meet the licensure requirements in that home state

This program is ideal for the LPN who wishes to enter an LPN-to-RN program. If you already have an LPN license, you can reduce the cost of multiple RN licenses by applying for several state licenses at the same time. NCSBN provides an NLC FAQ to answer questions about this licensing procedure, so candidates can learn how to apply easily.

After Your Exams

Candidates only need to wait 48 hours to learn the results of an exam if their state board of nursing participates in the Quick Results Service. This is an unofficial result, but the news can help to relieve any anxiety about those scores. Official results are available only through a candidate’s board of nursing, and that board will mail results within approximately one month after the exam.

  • If you pass the exam, your state board should register your license with Nursys, a national database for verification of nurse licensure, discipline, and practice privileges for RNs and LPN/VNs licensed in participating jurisdictions, or supply a way for you to register your license. Check with your state board’s Web site to learn more.
  • If you did not pass the exam, you can take the test again as many times as you need to. You must wait at least 91 days before retaking the test, and state boards may apply other restrictions individually. If you plan to retake the test, you need to go through the same steps as you did to take the test for the first time.

Validating RN and LPN Licenses

Nursys provides the only national database for verification of nurse licensure. There are three Nursys services publicly available via the Nursys site, including:

  1. Licensure QuickConfirm is a free service that provides online license lookup reports to employers and the general public. To receive a Licensure QuickConfirm Report, the nurse must be from a Licensure QuickConfirm Board of Nursing.
  2. Nurse License Verification provides online verification to a nurse requesting to practice in another jurisdiction. After you complete the online process and pay the required fee, verification is immediately available to the jurisdiction(s) to which you applied. The license(s) to be verified must be from a Nursys licensure participating board of nursing.
  3. Emergency Responder Service allows approved emergency response organizations the ability to look up nurse licenses in bulk and free of charge during a declared emergency event.

Why Accreditation is Important

Accreditation is a way for state licensing programs and students to know that the education available is going to adequately prepare students for a career in nursing. LPN and RN programs must be accredited by the National League of Nursing Accreditation Commission (NLNAC) and/or the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). Most state board Web sites require students to graduate from approved and accredited schools of nursing.

Today, online programs can be accredited, which allows students to consider an LPN to RN options online. Keep in mind that since all states do require nurses to obtain clinical hours along with any nursing education, students need to look for online programs that partner with local hospitals or other healthcare facilities for that hands-on experience.

LPN and RN Best Practices

The student who wishes to enter a workforce as soon as possible might opt for the LPN/LVN license. To obtain more responsibilities and a larger paycheck upon graduation, students might choose to become RNs. The LPN to RN option is available for those LPNs already in the workforce who want to achieve more career opportunities.

If you want to work in healthcare as a nurse, become familiar with your state board of nursing Web site. Those sites offer information that applies directly to nurses who reside and want to practice nursing within that state. If you wish to practice in another state, learn more about the NLC option to understand requirements for that program. In all cases, a nurse who applies for NLC licenses must already hold a valid LPN or RN license.

The NLC option makes that LPN license even more valuable; especially if you want to go on to earn your RN license. The ability to practice in several states may increase the opportunity to make more money, especially as a traveling nurse who might specialize in RN careers as nurse midwives, nurse practitioners, clinical nurse specialists, or nurse anesthetists.

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