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Nursing License Requirements in California

In California, there are two separate licensing agencies for nurses. Vocational Nurses (LVNs) are licensed by the Board of Vocational Nursing and Psychiatric Technicians. Registered Nurses are licensed by the California Board of Registered Nursing. California has 385,663 licensed RNs and 87,701 LVNs.

California is not a Nursing Licensure Compact state.

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Nurses at both levels take NCLEX exams. NCLEX results are listed by school and can be accessed through the Board sites: vocational (http://www.bvnpt.ca.gov/applicants/schools/index.shtml#passrates) and RN (http://www.rn.ca.gov/education/passrates.shtml). The RN application packet includes a list of NCLEX prep resources (http://www.rn.ca.gov/pdfs/applicants/exam-app.pdf). The Board lists many, but does not endorse particular ones.

If a nurse has already gone through the licensing process in another jurisdiction, the candidate may be eligible for licensure by endorsement. A nurse who has passed an acceptable exam will not need to go through the examination process again. California is not, however, a member of the nurse compact.

California’s Health Professions Education Foundation offers scholarship assistance or loan repayment to some qualified LVNs and RNs. Information about this program, as well as national programs that assist nursing students, is available on the site of the California Board of Registered Nursing (http://www.rn.ca.gov/careers/financial-aid.shtml).

An additional resource for learning about the requirements to become a nurse in California is the American Nurses Association – California (http://www.anacalifornia.org).

LVN License Requirements in California

LVN Education Requirements

Prospective LVNs complete 12th grade education or equivalency, and then (in most cases) attend state approved nursing programs. Graduates of programs approved in other states are eligible for licensure as are individuals who complete equivalent education and training while in the military. There is an additional pathway for candidates who have done bedside nursing and completed training that is considered equivalent.

Click here to learn about LVN program options in California.

The Board has issued a warning, though, that schools that are not approved to teach nursing within the state do sometimes claim approval status; if a student opts for a school that is misrepresenting itself in this manner, he will not be eligible for licensure. A list of approved California LVN programs can be found on the Board site (http://www.bvnpt.ca.gov/applicants/schools/index.shtml#schools). Nursing schools are required to provide their NCLEX pass rates; this information is also available. The Board recommends that candidates give thorough consideration to program quality before enrolling.

Read more about selecting an LVN program in the article "Choosing an LVN Program in California".

Application Process

Fingerprinting is an additional requirement for licensing. Candidates residing in California use a Live Scan process. They should be prepared to pay $49 at the fingerprinting site. There is a form available for download on the Board site. Application forms are available on the same page (http://www.bvnpt.ca.gov/applicants/). As part of the application process, candidates must verify their high school education or equivalency.

Applicants must pay $150 to the California Board for application processing and $200 to Pearson to take the NCLEX-PN licensing test. California must approve candidates before they can be authorized to test. The exam is computerized and can be scheduled at any testing site, either in California or another state (http://www.pearsonvue.com/nclex/). A candidate who does not pass is eligible to retake after 45 days but must again pay Pearson and the California Board.

Graduates of California programs may work under an interim permit while waiting to take the licensing exam.

Out of State LVN Applicants

Out of state candidates must meet similar requirements, but the process is slightly different. They will need to verify their license status using a paper form or an online system. They should send $199 to cover the application and fingerprinting process (http://www.bvnpt.ca.gov/applicants/application_for_vocational_nurse_licensure_by_endorsement.shtml).

Candidates who initiate the fingerprinting process while residing outside California will not be able to use the Live Scan fingerprinting and will use cards instead.

Foreign applicants are also eligible for licensure by endorsement, provided they take the NCLEX (or took its predecessor in an earlier time).

RN License Requirements in California

RN Education Requirements

Click here to learn about RN program options in California.

A prospective RN should enroll in an approved program in professional nursing. A list of programs that have been approved within California can be found on the RN site (http://www.rn.ca.gov/education/index.shtml). You can find more information about California's LVN programs in the article, "Choosing an RN program in California".

Application Process and NCLEX-RN Exam

The application process has several steps, but some may be completed in advance. Candidates must have a criminal background check. California residents are generally required to use Live Scan for their fingerprinting, though Live Scan exemptions are sometimes granted. A 2" by 2" photograph must also be included with the application materials. Most application materials are found in the PDF packet on the licensing page (http://www.rn.ca.gov/applicants/lic-exam.shtml). Candidates may need to follow the link to the requests page to get fingerprinting materials.

Candidates who have met the fingerprint requirement but have not yet taken the licensing exam may work under an interim permit. The cost to apply for RN by examination is $150 (http://www.rn.ca.gov/consumers/fees.shtml#app). An interim permit or temporary license costs an additional $50. The examination itself costs $200, payable to Pearson.

Candidates who fail an examination attempt will need to re-apply to the California Board and pay an additional fee.

Out of State RN Candidates

Both out-of-state and internationally licensed nurses are considered for California licensure. If a nurse is currently licensed and has already taken the required examination, the process is called endorsement. The candidate should provide verification from the state in which he originally passed the license exam in addition to the one where he is currently licensed.

The Board notes that Excelsior graduates are subject to the same requirements as other out-of-state applicants. Anyone who enrolled in a program from December 6, 2003 on has been required to have supervised clinical practice, obtained concurrently with nursing theory.

Out-of-state candidates are not required to use Live Scan for fingerprinting, but should be aware that if they opt for a fingerprint card in lieu of Live Scan, an additional fee will be assessed by the Board.

Application packets are available on the Board site (http://www.rn.ca.gov/applicants/lic-end.shtml). In most cases, endorsement candidates may apply online. A temporary license may be issued for an additional $50; this allows the nurse to work while materials are being processed. Criminal background information must be received before any license, including a temporary one, can be issued. If the background check has been completed beforehand, a candidate can hand carry materials to the Board office to expedite the issuance of a temporary license (http://www.rn.ca.gov/pdfs/applicants/tlcounter.pdf).

The licensure process is, by law, expedited for any eligible candidate who is the spouse or domestic partner of a member of the military on active duty in California. Applicants should attach a copy of their marriage certificate, evidence of legal union, or certified declaration of domestic partnership. A copy of military orders should also be included.

International candidates should send their school a form titled “Breakdown of Educational Program for International Nursing Programs” in addition to the transcript request. If the transcript is not in English, it must be translated by a professional translator. The necessary forms are available in the endorsement packet, along with detailed instructions.

International candidates must take and pass the NCLEX. Canadian candidates who took a pre-1980 licensing exam may be exempted. The Board notes that the Canadian Comprehensive Examination does not substitute for the NCLEX-RN.

Out-of-state nurses are eligible to work under a temporary license. International candidates from non-English speaking nations must present TOEFL scores if they wish to work under an interim permit while waiting to take the NCLEX-RN examination.

Professional and Student Nursing Associations in California

California Nurses Association

American Nurses Association California

California Nursing Students' Association

California Board of Registered Nursing

California Board of Vocational Nursing & Psychiatric Technicians

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