All About Maintaining Your Nursing License and Handling Your Credentials

All About Maintaining Your Nursing License and Handling Your Credentials

Some of you reading this might still be engaged in the nursing school battle, while others could have overcome that challenge and slayed the final opponent known as the NCLEX®. Whatever stage of your nursing professional development, your nursing license, and any additional credentials you’ve worked so hard to obtain, need to be protected and maintained moving forward.


All About Maintaining Your Nursing License and Handling Your Credentials
Matthew Murphy


January 31, 2023

What Does it Mean to Maintain a Nursing License?

After finishing nursing school and successfully passing the NCLEX®, your nursing license will be awarded by your respective state board of nursing or organization of professional licensure. They may go by different names from state to state, but they all serve the same purpose in that each state’s nursing board is the ultimate authority in issuing and renewing your nursing license.

Yes, I said renewing your nursing license. Even after finishing school and passing the NCLEX®, your license-related duties aren’t completely over once you get that license. Every state in the United States requires your nursing license to be renewed periodically.

The time frame in which you need to renew your nursing license is specific to each individual state. One state in which I am licensed requires me to renew every year, whereas another only makes me renew every three years.

So you need to renew —here are the basics to what you need to do:

  • Apply for renewal – Regardless of the state, there is going to be a renewal application. Check your respective state board of nursing for the details on how to complete that application.
  • Pay the fee – Every state is going to require you to pay a renewal fee. This can often be paid online during the renewal application process.
  • Know the education requirements – In addition to applying for renewal and paying the fee to renew, some states require you to satisfy certain education requirements on topics like child abuse or infection control. This again would be information you would need to get directly from your local state board of nursing.

Many of the educational requirements for renewing your nursing license can be found online, and some of them are even free to take. For example, the New York State Office of the Professions details the educational requirements and identifies approved providers of that education on their website.

If you’re not from NY, it may take a little bit of work on your end to find them, or you can reach out to your respective board of nursing for recommendations on where and how to complete the requirements.

Don’t make the mistake of letting your nursing license expire. You worked really hard for that, so be aware of when it is due to expire, and don’t wait until the last minute to start the renewal process. In addition to it being your professional responsibility, many employers have a tight process in place to make sure their nurses have a valid license. They won’t hesitate to pull you from being able to work if your license expires, and you don’t want to find yourself out of work for something that could have easily been prevented.

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What About Getting a License in Another State?

I have a nursing license in more than one state. For me, this was a result of my employment in more than one state at one time. There is no formal limit to the number of states in which you can be licensed as a nurse.  What could be a limiting factor for you personally would be the added work of keeping up with the renewal requirements across multiple states.

When it comes to getting a nursing license in another state, it’s less like you are transferring your license from one state to another and more like you are adding a new state on top of the one you are already licensed in. They don’t make you hand in one for another.

This is the more traditional way of getting licensed to be a nurse in multiple states. You would apply to that new state through a request of endorsement or reciprocity, and once you met the requirements of the new state you would be awarded a license to practice.

A less traditional and very convenient way to work in multiple states would be to make use of something you may have heard referred to as compact licensure. When you’re licensed in a compact state, you can work in any state that participates in recognizing compact licensure without the need to get additional licenses.

As of April 2022, there are 39 states participating in the new enhanced Nursing Licensure Compact (eNLC) agreement. This offers great flexibility in working across state lines and limits the fees and processes for renewing when working in multiple states.

There are some basic requirements when working under a compact license: Your primary residence needs to be in a compact-participating state, and you need to update your home state when moving across state lines even if it’s to another compact state.

What’s the Deal With Certification?

After you obtain your professional nursing license and gain some experience, you may want to pursue board certification. Getting board certified in your specialty is a great testament to your expertise in your specialty as a nurse. 

Board certification and holding a certificate are not however interchangeable and are often confused. Board certification is a professional credential that signifies the individual has passed a rigorous and comprehensive exam validating knowledge and expertise across a specialty. Examples of this would include credentials such as Certified Emergency Nurse (CEN) or Critical Care Registered Nurse (CCRN).

A certificate is different and is not considered a professional credential. Having a certificate, such as the one you would receive after completing the requirements for courses like ACLS or PALS, represents knowledge and proficiency on a focused topic. After completing a course like this you would receive a certificate showing proof of completion.

You may notice if you have a certificate from a course like these mentioned that it will say something like “provider certificate” or “certificate of completion”. This is different from the standards set forth by board certification.

Board certification like your license would also have an identified expiration date and renewal process. Many board certifications can be renewed by either taking the exam again or accruing a certain amount of continuing education hours in specific topic domains. Whichever method you choose, the requirements would need to be met, your fees would need to be paid, and then a subsequent renewal of certification would be issued.

How Should You Write Your Credentials?

As you grow professionally, you may start to gain quite a few initials after your name. You might be wondering about the most appropriate way to display those credentials.

As a general rule, the first set of initials to come after your name should be your highest academic degree.

For many of you, this would be something like ASN or BSN. I remember this by thinking to myself, this was the first step in becoming a nurse and this is something nobody can take away from me. My degree is something I am never going to lose.

Next would come any professional licenses such as your nursing license. For most, if not all of us, and next would be RN.

Following our professional license would then be any board certifications related to nursing. Again, these would be true board certifications and not course certificates. For example, I am a certified emergency nurse (CEN) and a trauma-certified registered nurse (TCRN). These certifications come after RN in my professional signature. I also happen to have completed the course requirements for TNCC and ENPC, obtaining provider certificates, but I do not include those in my professional signature.

If you happen to have any other non-nursing certifications, such as being a Nationally Registered Paramedic (NRP), that would be displayed next.

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