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Become Nurse in North Carolina: Requirements & Licensing

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Prospective nurses in North Carolina are poised to enter a growing industry. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the industry may grow by 7% between 2019 and 2029, which is faster than average. Additionally, North Carolina cities Greenville and Durham/Chapel Hill rank among the metro areas with the highest concentration for registered nurses (RNs) in the country.

Pursuing a nursing career in North Carolina also makes financial sense. RNs in the state earn a mean annual wage of about $66,440, according to the BLS. U.S. News & World report ranks North Carolina as the fourth highest state for fiscal stability and among the top half of the states for affordability.

Read on to learn how to become a registered nurse in North Carolina. This guide also looks at nursing programs in NC, along with career information for different types of nurses.

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How to Become a Nurse in North Carolina

While the path to becoming a nurse varies by position, all nurses must fulfill two basic steps: complete a nursing program, and pass the appropriate licensing exam.

The steps below further explore the process of becoming an RN. The pathways to becoming a nursing assistant, licensed practical nurse (LPN), or advanced practice nurse are all slightly different.

  • Choose the Path That’s Right for You

    The right online nursing degree for you depends on your career goals. Nurses in North Carolina need an ADN or nursing diploma. Those who want to work in a specialized area should earn a BSN or a master of science in nursing (MSN), while prospective nursing teachers should set their sights on a doctorate of nursing practice (DNP) or a nursing Ph.D.

    Candidates can earn a BSN at any point during their career. Most online RN-to-BSN programs in North Carolina allow distance learners to earn a degree in just two years while continuing to work full time.

  • Earn Your Nursing Degree

    Many nursing programs in North Carolina feature distance learning options. Accelerated nursing programs in North Carolina allow aspiring nurses to earn an ADN in just two years or a BSN in four years.

    Online programs also allow students to enroll in nursing programs outside their geographical area. Location no longer limits students, even for a degree that requires clinicals. Proctored exams, local internships, and asynchronous learning make it possible for future RNs to pursue online nursing degrees in a manner that suits their personal schedule.

  • Pass the Licensing Exam and Earn Your License

    North Carolina nursing schools prepare students to sit for the NCLEX-RN examination. During the five-hour exam, students must answer 75-265 multiple-choice questions. After the test-taker answers the first 75 questions, the exam calculates a score on a pass or fail basis. If the computer cannot determine an answer, students must continue answering questions until a definitive score returns.

How Do Online Nursing Degree Programs Work?

Students must earn in-person clinical experience to obtain nursing licensure. However, some online nursing programs in North Carolina do not require clinical experience. In these instances, students with professional nursing experience may enroll in degree completion programs. Hybrid programs combine on-campus and online coursework.

Current nurses who do not have time for traditional schooling often take advantage of distance education programs. Online courses offer flexibility and are often more affordable than their on-campus counterparts, while admission requirements are typically similar. The time it takes to complete an online nursing degree varies by program.

Nursing Licensure in North Carolina

While Licensure requirements vary by nursing type, some nurses in North Carolina do not need a license. The state defines these nurses, including CNAs and nurses’ aides, as unlicensed assistive personnel (UAP). Some CNAs study through a program approved by the North Carolina Board of Nursing (NCBON) to become a Nurse Aide I or II.

Unlike some states, two boards govern NPs in North Carolina: NCBON and the North Carolina Medical Board. As a restricted practice state, NPs in North Carolina cannot provide patient care unless they meet strict requirements. NPs need physician supervision to offer full patient care.

State Requirements by Nursing Type

From education to exams, every nursing role features different requirements. The next section looks at each type of nursing license in North Carolina.

  • Certified Nurse Assistant

    CNAs in North Carolina can choose from two roles: Nurse Aide I and Nurse Aide II. Nurse Aide I nurses prepare meals, clean healthcare rooms, and help patients with personal hygiene. North Carolina’s Division of Health Service Regulation approves Nurse Aide I educational programs and grants licenses for these professionals to work in specific industries, such as adult care and nursing homes. Depending on where they work, Nurse Aide I nurses may need a specific license or certification.

    Along with Nurse Aide I tasks, Nurse Aide II nurses may administer IVs, oxygen, and catheters. To be Nurse Aide II eligible, applicants must be current Nurse Aide I nurses and complete an approved training program. RN or LPN students may apply for Nurse Aide II licensure while completing their degree.

  • Licensed Practical Nurse

    LPNs in North Carolina must complete an approved nursing program. Out-of-state students must send an official final transcript to NCBON directly through their institution. LPNs usually hold an associate degree, which takes three semesters to complete, including all clinical hours required for licensure.

    First-time applicants must pass the NCLEX-PN and apply for licensure at least four weeks before graduating. LPNs pay a $75 application fee. During the application process, students submit their fingerprints and undergo a criminal background check. While some previous convictions lead to application denials, applicants may appeal the denial.

  • Registered Nurse

    RNs follow a similar track as LPNs, though they often complete more schooling. Instead of enrolling in a practical nursing program, students earn a two-year RN associate degree or four-year BSN. Accredited, in-state programs satisfy all prerequisites for NCLEX-RN and licensure eligibility.

    As with the LPN application process, RN applicants apply for and take the NCLEX-RN at least four weeks before graduating. Nurse applicants who do not pass the NCLEX-RN on their first try are eligible to take the NCLEX-PN after completing an NCBON workshop on practical nursing. Candidates must also submit fingerprints, undergo a criminal background check, and pay a $75 application fee.

  • Nurse Practitioner

    NPs in North Carolina apply for an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) license through NCBON. While NCBON grants licenses, NPs are jointly regulated by NCBON and the North Carolina Medical Board. NPs must hold at least a master’s degree or post-master’s certificate in a specialized nursing field, along with a current RN license from North Carolina or a Nurse Licensure Compact state.

    Before applying, NPs must also obtain certification for their specialized field through a national credentialing body. North Carolina accepts certification from ANCC, AANP, AACN, NCC, and PNCB. NPs need 50 contact hours each year to renew their license, at least 20 credits of which must be approved by a national accreditation body or an institution of higher education.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What nursing field makes the most money?

    APRNs earn the highest salaries, enjoying a median annual salary of $115,800. While advanced practice nursing encompasses many roles, nurse anesthetists make the most money — about $150,000 annually.

  • Can someone become a nurse in two years?

    Yes. Nurses with an associate degree can obtain RN licensure, and associate degree programs are usually two years long. In addition, the training programs for CNAs and licensed practical/licensed vocational nurses typically only last a few months to one year.

  • How should I choose what nursing field to go into?

    The answer to that question requires some introspection. Think about the types of people with whom you like to work. If you like helping infants or children, for example, you might specialize in neonatal care or pediatrics. You should also consider your potential salary goals, the number of years you wish to invest in your education, and the level of professional responsibility with which you feel comfortable.

  • Does an online nursing degree have the same value as an on-campus degree?

    Yes, as long as your online nursing degree is accredited. The accreditation process guarantees that students receive a quality education, and employers look for job candidates with accredited degrees, whether they earned those degrees online or on campus.

  • How long does it take to get an RN license in North Carolina?

    RNs can earn licensure in North Carolina with either an associate or bachelor’s degree in nursing. Associate degrees last two years, while bachelor’s programs last four years. However, students who enroll in these programs part time may need an extra 1-2 years to graduate and earn their RN license.

North Carolina Nurse Salaries and Employment Trends

Nearly 100,000 RNs work in North Carolina, earning an average annual income of about $66,440. In fact, North Carolina’s Greenville and Durham/Chapel Hill areas boast some of the nation’s highest concentration of RNs.

About 56,780 nursing assistants work in the state, earning an average salary of $26,540. North Carolina also has a high concentration of these professionals. The southeast coastal and Piedmont regions of North Carolina rank as two of the non-metro areas with the highest employment of nursing assistants. The Goldsboro metro area also tops the list of metro areas with the highest concentration of nursing assistants.

In addition, nearly 17,000 LPNs work in North Carolina, with an annual average salary of $45,880. About 5,500 NPs also work in the state, bringing home nearly $106,000 in mean earnings.

Nursing Resources for North Carolina

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