Become a Nurse in Illinois: Requirements, Licensing, and Employment Outlook icon

Become a Nurse in Illinois: Requirements, Licensing, and Employment Outlook

| Maura Deering

Become a Nurse in Illinois: Requirements, Licensing, and Employment Outlook mini logo

If you are looking for a state with opportunities for registered nurses (RNs), Illinois may fit the bill. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) ranks the Chicago-Naperville-Elgin region third among metropolitan areas in the nation with the highest employment of RNs. Chicago-area RNs make an average annual salary of $77,970, and RNs statewide average $74,560.

Continue reading for information on becoming a nurse in Illinois and a list of the best hospitals for employment.

Degree Required
License Required
Job Outlook

How to Become a Nurse in Illinois

The Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR) confers initial RN licenses to undergraduate nursing program graduates who pass the national examination. License renewal requires continuing education. National certifications in specialty areas and graduate degrees can open even more doors in the nursing profession. The steps below outline the process from start to finish.

Apply to an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) Program.
Two-year ADN programs provide the quickest path to RN licensing, but spending the extra time earning a four-year BSN can lead to more employment opportunities.
Pass the NCLEX-RN Exam to Receive RN Licensure.
The Illinois nursing board requires a passing score on the National Council Licensure Examination for RNs (NCLEX-RN). Nursing program graduates should plan to sit for the exam about a month after earning their degrees.
Apply for Jobs at Local Hospitals.
RNs can find employment at top-rated Illinois hospitals, where opportunities abound due to a projected shortfall of 14,395 nurses by 2025. Learn more about hospitals in Illinois.
Advance Your Career With a Graduate Degree or Certification.
Certification in areas like hospital/acute care, in which 52% of Illinois RNs practice according to a workforce survey, or earning a master’s or doctoral degree in nursing can lead to higher pay and career advancement.
Maintain and Renew Licensure and Certifications.
RNs can renew their licenses through the IDFPR website. Renewals occur during even-numbered years and require 20 hours of continuing education per cycle.
The Complete Guide to How to Become a Registered Nurse

Illinois Board of Nursing

IDFPR, which houses the Illinois nursing board, licenses and regulates RNs, along with licensed practical nurses (LPNs) and advanced practice nurses. The department maintains web pages devoted to licensing and renewal information; a licensing lookup database; exam registration portals; and applicable laws, rules, and regulations. RNs can access downloadable forms, nursing program accreditation information, licensure compact progress, and scope and practice guidance.

The department ensures the competency of licensed RNs to provide services to Illinois patients and provides confidential help and resources for nurses with substance use disorders.

How to Get Your Nursing License in Illinois

The department offers two ways to apply for an Illinois nursing license: examination for new nurses or endorsement for existing nurses from other states. IDFPR refers to RNs as "registered professional nurses."

Licensure for New Nurses

This section outlines the licensure eligibility requirements and application steps for RN licensure of new nurses. These steps apply to prospective RNs who have completed their nurse training programs within three years of the application date and who have never held RN licensure before.

RN Licensure Eligibility Requirements

  • Proof of an ADN or BSN from a program accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing or the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education. State-approved nursing schools via an official student roster, official transcript, or nurse education form also qualify.
  • Candidates must register for the NCLEX-RN through both Continental Testing Services (CTS) and Pearson Vue.
  • Each prospective RN must pay a $98 CTS application fee and a $200 Pearson Vue fee as of June 2021.
  • Candidates provide proof of fingerprinting by state-approved vendors for background checks.
  • Each aspiring RN must present a passing score on the NCLEX-RN.

Steps to Apply for an RN License

  1. Log onto the IDFPR licensing board website and the professional registered nurse CTS application site.
  2. Download the nurse education form, if applicable.
  3. Register with CTS and Pearson Vue and access NCLEX reference materials and procedures.
  4. Check your application status.
  5. Sit for the NCLEX-RN exam about a month after graduating from nursing school and within 90 days of receiving an authorization to test from Pearson Vue.
  6. Watch for your NCLEX-RN results within 7-10 days after taking the exam.
Licensure for Nurses From a Different State

RNs licensed in other states can apply for their Illinois nursing licenses through the Illinois nursing board but follow different steps as mandated by IDFPR. Illinois has not yet signed onto the Enhanced Nurse Licensure Compact, so all out-of-state RNs follow the same process.

Steps to Apply for an RN License

  1. Log onto the IDFPR online portal and complete the online RN endorsement application. Candidates must complete the application within three years of the original application date.
  2. Provide a record of RN licensure with a Nursys identification number or your state's licensure verification process.
  3. Submit proof of education with a nurse education form and official transcript.
  4. Provide proof of fingerprinting by a state-approved vendor for a background check.
  5. Pay the $50 application fee.
  6. Apply for a temporary nursing permit, if needed, pending your application's review, and pay a small fee.
Top Nursing Schools and Programs in Illinois

How to Renew Your Nursing License in Illinois

RNs can renew their Illinois nursing licenses online with a credit card. Illinois requires each RN to complete one hour of continuing education in sexual harassment, plus 20 hours of approved RN continuing education. Options for continuing education credit include training by an authorized provider, approved independent study, and college-level coursework, along with attending a presentation or lecture and authoring a publication.

Renewals take place by May 31 of every even-numbered year by following these steps:

  1. Log onto the IDFPR online portal and access the "Renew Here" tab.
  2. Provide your license number, date of birth, and Social Security number.
  3. Pay the renewal fee and service charge.

Salary and Employment for Nurses in Illinois

Illinois' projected employment growth rate of 12.4% from 2018-2028 ranks 26th nationally and exceeds the U.S. rate of 7%. Like many states, Illinois faces a nursing shortage due to an aging population, lack of nurse training resources, and nurses leaving the field. These data points translate into opportunities for new RNs.

RNs in Illinois earn an average annual salary of $74,560, and the state ranks 21st for RN compensation. The following information lists mean annual RN salaries in the top highest-paying Illinois metro areas. In all five areas, RNs make close to or more than $70,000 per year, with those in Chicago bringing in more than the state average.

Top-Paying Metropolitan Areas for RNs

Metropolitan Area Mean Annual Salary
Chicago — Naperville — Elgin $77,970
Kankakee $75,460
Danville $74,680
Springfield $72,050
Rockford $69,880
Source: BLS

Best Hospitals to Work as a Nurse in Illinois

U.S. News & World Report ranked the Illinois hospitals listed below as the top five for specialty areas and procedures and conditions. Specialty rankings concern complex, high-risk cases; procedures and conditions refer to more common focus areas like cardiology and orthopedics.

  • Located in Chicago, NMH serves as a teaching hospital and provides specialized care in geriatrics, neurology and neurosurgery, organ and tissue transplants, and women's health.
  • Chicago-based Rush boasts Magnet designation, which indicates nursing excellence, quality patient care, and innovation in nursing practice. Over 50% of Rush University System for Health nurses hold professional certification.
  • UChicago Medicine, which includes the University of Chicago Medical Center, employs nearly 2,500 RNs and LPNs and holds Magnet designation for nursing excellence.
  • Maywood's Loyola offers opportunities for nurses in hospitals and off-campus health centers throughout Chicago's suburbs. A University Healthsystem Consortium study recognized Loyola's nursing staff as a top performer.
  • Nurses at Magnet-designated Advocate Christ in Oak Lawn have received recognition for their work in both the medical and surgical trauma intensive care units.

Resources for Nurses in Illinois

  • From its offices in Springfield and Chicago, INA offers collective bargaining, legislative and political advocacy, continuing education, and news updates for Illinois RNs. Networking events include an annual membership assembly, and RNs can access an online COVID-19 resource center. Members can deduct 93% of their annual dues.
  • Established in 2006, INWC works with industry leaders and educational institutions to ensure that Illinois' nursing workforce meets the needs of an aging population and increased demand for nurses. The center publishes surveys and demographic data to help document nursing in Illinois.
  • SNAI develops nursing student leaders through events, speakers, awards, and an annual convention. This association offers access to a monthly magazine and Facebook page and opportunities to serve on the board of directors. Members join the National Student Nurses Association through SNAI membership.
  • As a resource for nursing schools, IACN seeks to advance excellence in nursing education. This association advocates at the legislative, industry, and institutional levels to produce position statements, news briefs, and announcements. IACN also awards scholarships to RNs and nursing students.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Illinois in need of nurses?

Illinois faces a nursing shortage fueled by several factors: an aging baby boomer population, medical advancements that lengthen lifespans, an absence of nurse training resources, and nurses leaving the profession. This includes the anticipated retirement of 27% of Illinois RNs by 2023. The ongoing pandemic has only exacerbated the shortage.

How much money do nurses make in Illinois?

Illinois RNs earn an average annual salary of $74,560. RNs can bolster their incomes by becoming certified in a specialty area or pursuing a graduate nursing degree. Illinois nurse practitioners, who must hold at least a master of science in nursing, earn an average wage of $112,060.

What are the highest-paying cities for nurses in Illinois?

RNs earn the highest income in the Chicago-Naperville-Elgin metropolitan area, where they take home a median salary of $76,150. Median annual RN compensation in Kankakee totals $74,030, and Danville RNs make $72,730. Rounding out the top five, Rockford RNs earn a median salary of $71,470 and Springfield RNs make $70,570.

What are the most common work settings for nurses in Illinois?

More than half of Illinois RNs work in hospital/acute care settings, and 11% find employment in ambulatory care settings, such as outpatient clinics, physicians' offices, and private practice. The remainder practice in long-term care facilities, which employ 9%, and schools, where 4% of RNs work.

Top Nursing Programs in Illinois is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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