What Is the Role of the State Board of Nursing?

Ann Feeney
Updated March 22, 2023
    What is the role of the State Board of Nursing? Learn about its four main functions, how it works, and what it means to you.
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    Have you ever wondered about the role state boards play in nursing licensure or how they might affect you and your career? We have the answers for you.

    This article explains what you need to know about state boards of nursing (BON) as a nurse or nursing student. Read on for information about nursing regulatory bodies and its main functions, such as its part in nurse licensure and disciplinary actions.

    Nursing Regulatory Bodies Explained

    State boards of nursing oversee all administrative aspects of nurse licensing for each state.

    All 50 states, including the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, and the Virgin Islands, have individual boards of nursing. Collectively, these organizations make up the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN). NCSBN administers the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN), which prospective RNs must pass before practicing professionally.

    The combination of licensing and taking board exams ensures nurse competency and ongoing continuing education efforts are upheld.

    Some policies remain consistent across states, such as passing the NCLEX-RN, but other policies vary by state. Check your specific state nursing board for the most relevant requirements for becoming a nurse in your state.

    4 Main Functions of the Board of Nursing

    What are the four main functions of the board of nursing? State boards of nursing evaluate license applications, issue licenses, renew licenses, and take disciplinary action in response to professional misconduct.

    • Evaluating Licensure Applications: The state board of nursing evaluates applications to make sure nursing applicants possess the appropriate education, have passed the NCLEX-RN, and completed background checks.
    • Issuing Licenses: The state board of nursing issues licenses and maintains a list of licensed nurses. These listings are available to the public and healthcare providers.
    • Renewing Licenses: To renew licenses, nurses must participate in continuing professional education and must be in good standing. The state board of nursing determines the specific renewal requirements.
    • Taking Disciplinary Action: If a nurse becomes accused of violating laws or nursing regulations, the state board of nursing conducts an investigation and may issue disciplinary action, such as a reprimand or loss of the nursing license.

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    How State Nursing Regulations Work

    The Nurse Practice Act (NPA) determines nursing license requirements, defines the scope of nursing practice, establishes the types of licenses and the requirements for receiving each license, and sets the state board of nursing’s makeup and roles.

    State boards work with the NPA by enforcing rules and regulations that are state-specific for licensure and scope of practice in specific areas.

    While NPAs across states might share similar licenses and requirements, they vary in other aspects. To practice in a state, nurses must comply with that state’s licensing requirements and NPA.

    Nurse Practice Acts and BONs

    NPAs give each state board of nursing the authority to develop additional administrative rules to help clarify or specify NPA’s statutes. These additional rules and regulations must be within the spirit of the NPA and cannot exceed what the law permits.

    Once enacted, the state board of nursing rules have the force of law. Nurses, nursing students, and other stakeholders can submit written comments or participate in hearings. Nurses must understand the role of their state boards of nursing and follow its actions.

    Why Do Nurses Need a License?

    Nurses, like any profession with a major impact on public health and safety, must earn licenses. Licensure ensures that nurses have the necessary knowledge and skills to practice safely and keep ethical standards.

    Licensing also saves administrative work for healthcare providers and other employers. The state board of nursing centralizes credential verification. It can also act as an impartial body in reviewing complaints and disciplining professional misconduct. Verifying credentials protects institutions and individuals, including the most vulnerable patients.

    How Do Nurses Become Licensed?

    While each state board of nursing has distinct requirements and its own application process, the central elements are consistent across states.

    Each nurse must graduate from an accredited nursing school, pass the NCLEX-RN, and submit an application and a background check. Application fees typically cost $100-$300.

    Once licensed, nurses must renew their licenses regularly by participating in approved continuing healthcare education. Some options include:

    • Attending professional conferences
    • Taking courses related to nursing practice
    • Publishing articles in a peer-reviewed journal

    What Happens When a Nurse Fails to Renew Their License?

    A nurse who fails to renew their license but still practices nursing has committed a crime by practicing without a license. They and their institution may become liable to significant penalties.

    A nurse whose license lapses because they stopped practicing for a significant period may need to complete a refresher course to resume nursing. Each state board of nursing establishes particular requirements. The state BON may issue temporary waivers to allow nurses with recently lapsed licenses to practice in emergencies.

    State Board of Nursing vs. American Nurses Association

    The American Nurses Association (ANA) is a national membership organization for all nurses and represents the interests of nurses and the nursing profession. Membership is voluntary and not required for licensure.

    So, what is the difference between the state board of nursing and the ANA?

    The state board of nursing is a government body that oversees nursing licenses. While the ANA is an influential and respected voice and state boards of nursing will usually consider its suggestions, the ANA does not have the legal authority afforded by state boards of nursing.

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