Whether you’re a first-time travel nurse or a seasoned veteran, the matter of obtaining licensure in a new state you’d like to work in is always a hurdle. In some states, like Georgia, Kentucky, or Minnesota, a permanent license from the state’s board of nursing can usually be obtained within 2 weeks. For this particular list, however, we’ll discuss the states that have the longest licensure windows, on average, for nurses who reside in another state.
What about Compact States?
If you’re an experienced travel nurse, you likely are familiar with the term “compact state license.” A compact state is one that has enacted the Nurse Licensure Compact (NLC) through legislation, enabling any permanent resident of that state to work in other compact states without having to obtain additional nursing licensure. For example, a nurse whose permanent residence is in Baltimore, Maryland, can work a travel assignment in Augusta, Maine, without having to obtain additional licensure. Why? Because both states are members of the Nurse Licensure Compact.
See a map and full explanation of compact state traveling by clicking here.
If a nurse resides in a state that is not an NLC member, but wishes to travel to a state that is an NLC member, they must apply for licensure in that state just as they would anywhere else. Upon obtaining a license in that compact state, however, they do not have the same access to all other compact states, as someone who resides in an NLC member state would—they only have licensure for that single state.
5 States that Take Longest to Get an RN License In
Now that we have a general understanding of NLC member states and who can travel on a compact license, let’s look at the states that can be most time-consuming for a nurse when trying to obtain permanent licensure. Each timespan listed is an average—in some cases licensure can be obtained more quickly, while in some circumstances, it could take even longer.
1. Ohio (4-6 months)
Surprised California doesn’t top the list? The Buckeye State actually takes the cake as the longest state to get licensed in, on average, and with attractive Midwestern cities like Cincinnati, Columbus, and Cleveland, many nurses in the surrounding states (and beyond) go through Ohio’s long licensure process. Like most states, Ohio requires a fingerprint and background check. Learn more by visiting the Ohio Board of Nursing website.
2. California (3-6 months)
Ah, California—a bucket-list destination for many travel nurses. With promises of gorgeous weather and high pay (though be sure to consider the high cost of living in many major cities), California is the state our recruiters are most-asked about when the topic of licensure comes up. With a similar (though sometimes shorter) time frame to Ohio’s licensure process, travel nurses interested in California jobs must take the long-view. Consider applying for licensure first while taking another assignment elsewhere as the process plays out. Once you obtain your California RN license, you can then begin your Golden State job search (ask a THS recruiter about California cities where you can get the most bang for your buck). Please keep in mind that California does require fingerprints.
To learn more about obtaining a California nursing licensure by endorsement, check out this recent article from HCTN. You can also explore the California Board of Nursing website for more information.
3. Maryland (10 weeks)
Before diving too deeply into the Maryland RN licensure process, it’s important to again recognize that Maryland is a compact state. Therefore, if your permanent residence is in another NLC member state and you have a compact nursing license, you can work as a travel nurse in Maryland without additional licensure.
If you do not already have a compact state license and are interested in working in Maryland, however, be prepared to wait 10 weeks, on average, for a Maryland RN license. With excellent opportunities for travelers in Baltimore, the wait is worth it for many nurses. Learn more about the fingerprint and background check process and more on the Maryland Board of Nursing website.
4. Maine (8-10 weeks)
Another compact state, Maine is home to beautiful Acadia National Park, world-famous lobster festivals, and many quaint seaside towns. For these reasons and more Maine assignments have become a hot commodity in the traveler community, especially in the summer and fall months. If you’re interested in working as a travel RN in Maine (and you don’t have a compact state nursing license), expect to wait 8-10 weeks for licensure. Fingerprints and a background check are required; learn more about the process on the Maine Board of Nursing website.
5. Alaska (8 weeks)
The Last Frontier is calling! While that may be the case, a nurse interested in working in Alaska must first go through the (on average) 8-week RN licensure process. Alaska, like all the aforementioned states, requires fingerprints and a background check from nurses applying for a license. Learn more about obtaining your license in Alaska on the state’s Board of Nursing website.
Noteworthy Contenders for Longest Time to Licensure
While these states didn’t make the top 5, they were very close, and are worth keeping in mind as a travel nurse.
- Illinois (6-8 weeks)
- Michigan (6-8 weeks)
- New Jersey (6-8 weeks)
- New York (6-8 weeks)
- Indiana (3-8 weeks)
- Nebraska (2-10 weeks) (compact)
- Iowa (2-8 weeks) (compact)