Imagine life as a travel nurse. Between each assignment, you’re required to carry a massive binder full of 50 individual licenses that allow you to practice in each U.S. state—seems like a lot.
Luckily, the Nurse Licensure Compact (NLC) was established to help registered nurses (RNs), licensed practical nurses (LPNs), and licensed vocational nurses (LVNs) travel to and from eligible states without the need to apply and pay for new licenses. Unfortunately, not every U.S. state participates in the NLC, which makes things a little more complicated for travel nurses.
There are currently 34 out of 50 states that have enacted NLC legislation. So, what do you do if you live in one of the other 16 states? How will a multi-state license advance your career as a travel nurse? Is getting a compact license really worth it? Let’s take a closer look to find out.
Single-state vs multi-state licenses
There are two main types of nurse state licensing: single-state and multi-state. A multi-state nursing license—also known as compact license, NLC, or eNLC—is equivalent to a compact license, meaning an RN, LPN, or LVN can practice and provide healthcare in any of the compact states without obtaining new licensure.
In order to be eligible for a multi-state license, your primary residence must reside in a compact state and you must be actively licensed as an RN, LPN, or LVN. To maintain your multi-state license, you’re required to meet continuing education (CE) requisites in your primary state of residence.
If you’re unsure where your home state stands on the list, research current NLC states. Although most of the U.S. regions are compact, there are some that aren’t. They include:
- American Samoa
- New York
- District of Columbia
The remaining states are pending legislation for the NLC. Those states are:
- Rhode Island
- Virgin Islands
While a multi-state license allows nurses to provide care to patients in multiple states, a single-state license permits professional travel nurses to work in a noncompact state. In other words, if the state you live in isn’t one included in the NLC legislature, you’ll need a single-state license to practice nursing. The catch is you’ll need a single-state license in every state you work in, even those that are compact.
So, as you can guess, there are many advantages of multi-state nursing licenses. Not only do compact licenses save a nurse’s time, money, and energy with less paperwork and application fees, but multi-state licenses also provide nurses with more mobility and unique environments to learn and practice important healthcare skills. Additional compact licensing benefits for nurses include:
- A simplified process to work in multiple states
- The ability to practice via telehealth or telenursing in other states
- The capability to respond to national disasters and staffing shortages in other compact states
- Qualifications to teach via distance-learning in compact states
- The allowance of military spouse nurses to seamlessly continue working without the hassle of new licensing each time they relocate
However, professional nurses aren’t the only ones who profit from multi-state licenses. In fact, there are several perks for states to enact NLC legislation:
- Increases access to healthcare while maintaining public protection at the state level
- Supports efficient and strong healthcare delivery
- Greater access to a wider variety of more mobile and logistically-available nurses
- Promotes travel nursing and per diem shifts across state lines
The overall goal one day is for all U.S. states to be a member of the NLC, but with resistance from some states about licensure requirements, it’s unknown when that day will come. For real-time notifications about updates to the NLC such as expiration dates, renewal requirements, and disciplinary actions, sign up for Nursys eNotify System.
Answers to common travel nurse licensure questions
There’s a lot of tiny details to remember about nursing licensure and with the fine print often comes questions. These are some of the top common questions about travel nursing licensure, plus their answers:
Q: How do I get a multi-state license if I live in a noncompact sate?
A: As a resident of a noncompact state, you’ll apply for a license by endorsement in a compact state. Your eligibility will be limited to a single-state license that’s valid in that specific state only. Bonus, as a resident of a noncompact state, you can have as many single-state licenses as you want or need.
Q: Do I have to fill out an application for a compact nursing license?
A: That’s right! Since licensure requirements vary by state, you’ll use the state board of nursing application for licensure by exam or by endorsement, as outlined on your board of nursing’s website. The fees will depend on the state of your primary residency.
Q: What classifies a state as my primary state of residence?
A: Your primary state of residence refers to the location where you hold a valid driver’s license, pay federal income tax, and/or vote. As a travel nurse, you’re on the move from place to place, but your primary state of residency is your original home sweet home.
Q: What if I’m changing my primary state of residency in a few months from a noncompact state to a compact state?
A: For maximum efficiency, you should start the application process prior to your move. You won’t receive your new multi-state license until a Declaration of Primary State of Residence form has been submitted with any proof of residence that may be required by the board of nursing. Long story short, you can get the wheels turning for the initial application steps and then ensure you have proof of residency ASAP.
Q: I’m a new grad. Where should I apply for my license?
A: Congratulations, traveler! After you graduate, you’ll first be required to take the National Council Licensure Exam (NCLEX) to test your nursing skills. You can enroll and take the NCLEX in any state, regardless of where you want to practice or live. Once you’ve passed that exam, you can then apply for licensure by exam or authorization to test (ATT), in the state where you plan to reside.
Travel nursing made easier with Fusion Marketplace
It’s no secret that you have a lot to juggle. From patient paperwork to days-long shifts to obtaining certifications and then some, there’s enough on your plate. With a Fusion Marketplace traveler profile, you can effortlessly house your information in one convenient place, and never have to worry about organizing files, reuploading qualifications, or misplacing important documents.
Become part of a traveler-driven community and get used to what it feels like to be in control of your travel nursing career. Not only does your completed Marketplace profile save your education experience, certifications, and state licenses, but your traveler profile unlocks access to tens of thousands of available healthcare job opportunities, as well.
Don’t waste your valuable time scouring the Internet for a travel job that suits your personal and professional goals. Instead, save yourself the headache and narrow down your job search with the sort and filter functions to browse postings that check your boxes. Complete transparency into location, estimated weekly pay, staffing agency, facility type, and more allows you the autonomy you need and deserve in a nursing career.
The ins and outs of compact nursing states can be a complex maze to navigate, but with this quick guide, you can easily obtain your state licenses, and get back to the thing you love to do most: nursing. Keep track of your licenses and certifications through a Fusion Marketplace profile and enjoy a more streamlined process to landing the travel job placement you’ve always wanted.