What is seen as one of the more complicated aspects of travel nursing is acquiring a license to legally work. With each state maintaining their own requirements, it can be a bit of a complicated process trying to figure out all of the details when you need to pick up your next assignment as fast as possible. As travel nurses in the past became license collectors, travel nurses of today are going to have a considerably easier system to work with. Known as the Compact State Nursing License, you can be zipping from state to state faster than ever before.
If you were pondering the life of a travel nurse, this aspect makes the continuous 13-week contracts much more easily accessible. Along with the perks of travelling the country, and expanding your skills and experience with each hospital or facility you enter, you can now enjoy more freedom in deciding which area you would like to work in. Whether that be more big city vibes or honing in on rural areas. No matter what your specialty is, a nursing compact license could save you that headache you were already trying to avoid.
What is a Compact Nursing License?
The Nurse Licensure Compact (NLC) originally began in 1999 – with Maryland first on board – and was deemed official in 2000 with Arkansas, Delaware, Iowa, North Carolina, Texas, Utah and Wisconsin following suit. However, there were talks of the inconsistencies of a state-by-state system as far back as 1995, especially when the system was restrictive, costly and didn’t relate to the quality of care patients were given. When a report around that same time was released, which argued that this system would fail to meet the needs of the healthcare system and their expectations in the future; these arguments would come true and be seen vividly throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Nursing shortages in hospitals that were in dire need of extra hands with the onslaught of patients found states speeding up licensing applications to bring in fast help, proving the system needed something more.
Though 24 states were involved by 2010, the NLC was updated in July 2017 and deemed the Enhanced Nurse Licensure Compact (eNLC). This now included 29 states with 10 slowly being added – five of those being in 2020 due to the pandemic – over the years and two more states joining in 2023.
In the past, nurses were indeed needing to have a registered nursing license in whichever state they were contracted in. Thankfully, the compact nursing license allows for so much more convenience. Instead of holding several state licenses, you can now hold on to one license for 39 states. That’s 39 applications, background checks, fees and headaches you can skip!
For long-term travel nursing, this license comes in more than handy. Now nurses can work in compact states all throughout the U.S. Often referred to as either the NLC, eNLC or simply a compact license, this list of 39 states seems to be growing longer with time.
What are the Requirements for Obtaining a Compact State Licensure?
Thankfully, how you obtain a nursing compact license is much the same as your single-state license. As long as you meet all of the requirements for a multistate license, then you will be good to go. The NCSBN themselves state fundamental requirements to be:
- Has met the requirements for licensure in the home state (state of residency);
- Has graduated from a board of nursing-approved education program; or
- Has graduated from a foreign education program (approved by the authorized accrediting body in the applicable country and verified by an independent credentials review agency);
- Has passed an English proficiency examination (applies to graduates of a foreign education program not taught in
- English or if English is not the individual’s native language);
- Has passed the NCLEX-RN or PN Examination or predecessor exam;
- Is eligible for or holds an active, unencumbered license (i.e., without active discipline);
- Has submitted to state and federal fingerprint-based criminal background checks;
- Has no state or federal felony convictions;
- Has no misdemeanor convictions related to the practice of nursing (determined on a case-by-case basis);
- Is not currently a participant in an alternative program;
- Is required to self-disclose current participation in an alternative program; and
- Has a valid United States Social Security number.
If you are able to check off all of these boxes, you then move on to entering the state board of nursing website and applying. However, some states may require further requests depending on which home state you are in and it is critical to stay on top and abide by the different state regulations and requirements.
How Do I Get A Compact Nursing License?
Once you possess all of the requirements above, it comes down to these three options.
- Obtaining the license by taking an exam
- Renewing your already existing license
- Converting your single state license you have already obtained to a multi-state license
If you are a nurse currently working with one state licensing, then it will be as simple as heading over to your state board of nursing website, following the prompts for “eNCL Upgrade Application” or “Apply for a multistate license” and undergoing the exam. With all of the above requirements set, this process will be reasonably easy. However, for those who are already on the travel nursing path, you may have an alternative route to follow. For example, converting your single-state license.
How do I apply for a compact state nursing license?
Obtaining your license will be dependent on the list of compact nursing license states. As mentioned above, your state needs to be on the list of nursing compact states 2022. Below, you can find your state and use the prompt to apply for your compact state nursing license there.
An Overview of the States That Have a Compact Nursing Agreement
Guam – Guam is allowing nurses who hold active, unencumbered, multi-state licenses issued by Nurse Licensure Compact member states to practice in Guam under their multi-state licenses.
Louisiana – Registered Nurse and Practical Nurse
Ohio – Law passed. Implementation date 1/1/2023
Pennsylvania – Law passed and awaiting implementation
Virgin Islands – Law passed and awaiting implementation
West Virginia – Registered Nurse and Practical Nurse
What are the Pros and Cons of a Compact Nursing License?
The NCSBN states the advantages as being, “the eNLC increases access to health care, protects patient safety, reduces costs and supports state-of-the-art health care delivery. It also enhances nurses’ mobility across states and allows nurses to quickly cross state borders when there is a disaster. The eNLC is also cost-effective, since an organization may share the expenditure of multiple licenses nurses can incur by crossing state lines. It also removes multiple and duplicate regulatory requirements, cutting down costs for nurses.” As seen as a more efficient way of handling nursing licenses, and the hope more states jump on board, the eNLC is a great way of providing patients and hospitals exactly what they need when they need it.
Furthermore, if your state has already been added to the compact nursing license states, applying to the eNLC will allow you to span borders much more easily than ever before. You will be provided with flexibility and freedom you didn’t have before. This, in turn, will:
- Allow more travel and new experiences
- The potential to increase your income
- Save you costs and time on applications
- Allow you to be of help in any future nursing shortage crisis and
- Open the door to telemedicine.
For those who have had states added in the last few years – for instance Louisiana, Alaska, Alabama, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, New Jersey or Vermont – you can convert your single-state license to your new multi-state license today.
There are a few cons that come along with compact state nursing licenses and a lot of them have to do with who can receive them and where they are recognized. For instance
- Those states that are unlisted will be not recognized for licensure. If you happen to be from that state or are working in that state, the compact license will unfortunately not work for you.
- When it comes to your traditional license while working in a compact state. You will need to take extra steps to be eligible to work.
- Each state has their own regulations and requirements. Despite having a compact license, you will need to keep up to date and abide by them.
- Despite the state being a part of the list of nursing compact states, sometimes the employers won’t accept the eNLC. Making your credentials null when wanting to work in a specific hospital or facility.
However, it’s always important to remember that with many of these issues come solutions that have already been found. With 39 states involved, you aren’t the first person who may have experienced similar issues and you definitely won’t be the last. As a continuously evolving licensing system, just like a continuously evolving healthcare industry, solutions will inevitably be in place for any problems you may come across.
What If I Am Not From A Compact State?
Unfortunately, there isn’t a whole lot you can do about this situation. There is an option of applying for licensure by endorsement for the state you are residing or working in. However, you will still only receive a single-state license. On the plus side, you can have more than one single-state license.
What Is The Difference Between A Compact License And A Multistate License?
Don’t worry about the little details of this. A multi-state license and a compact license can be used interchangeably. Because they are both utilized to move from state to state with ease, they both mean exactly the same thing.
A compact state nursing license is really the best thing to come out of nursing licenses. Instead of needing to go through all of the hassles of getting a license for each state, you can now have one for all 39 nursing compact states in 2022 with two more to come in 2023. For nurses everywhere – especially travel nurses – this license is welcomed. Any hospitals or states that are in crisis and require extra hands will be able to request them easily. A procedure that would have been welcomed throughout the pandemic. If you have any questions or concerns about the compact license and how to apply, you can contact NCSBN here. As for those who are interested in travel nursing due to this speedy ability to move from state to state, check out TheraEx recruiting agency here .