Nursing in Kentucky: Requirements, Licensing, and Salary Outlook

Gayle Morris, MSN
Updated September 27, 2023
    Interested in earning a Kentucky nursing license? Learn about the Kentucky State Board of Nursing's licensure requirements.
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    Are you ready to earn your online nursing degree?

    Louisville, KY morning skylineCredit: Henryk Sadura / Tetra images / Getty Images

    Degree Required

    Degree RequiredADN or BSN

    License Required

    License RequiredRegistered Nurse License


    FeesLicense: $150-$200
    Renewal: $65

    Job Outlook

    Job Outlook8.8% growth from 2020 to 2030

    According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there are nearly 43,000 registered nurses (RNs) and over 4,000 nurse practitioners throughout Kentucky. At 8.8%, the projected job growth rate for RNs in Kentucky is similar to the national projected growth. Two large metropolitan areas on the Kentucky border offer unique opportunities for nurses to work outside of the state.

    A Kentucky nursing license from a Kentucky nurse practitioner program or an RN program can lead to many jobs and a rewarding career helping others.

    How to Become a Nurse in Kentucky

    Nurses must meet certain requirements to legally practice in Kentucky. Prospective nurses must earn an associate degree in nursing (ADN) or a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) from an accredited school and pass a national licensing exam before applying for state licensure.

    Apply to an ADN or a BSN Program.

    ADN programs generally last two years, while a BSN usually takes four years to complete. Part-time students may take longer to graduate. BSN-holders typically enjoy higher wages and more job opportunities.

    Pass the NCLEX-RN to Receive RN Licensure.

    The Kentucky Board of Nursing uses the National Council Licensure Examination for RNs (NCLEX-RN) to independently verify nurses

    Apply for Jobs at Local Hospitals.

    Licensed nurses may apply for jobs at hospitals, physicians

    Advance Your Career With a Graduate Degree or Certification.

    An advanced degree or specialty certification may lead to increased earning potential and more employment opportunities, including a career as an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN).

    Maintain and Renew Licensure and Certifications.

    Kentucky nurses must complete 14 contact hours of continuing education each year to renew their license. There are many ways to receive contact hours such as completing college coursework and publishing in peer-reviewed journals.
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    Kentucky Board of Nursing

    The Kentucky Board of Nursing develops and enforces the state laws that govern nursing practice. These include credentialing, educational guidelines, and continuing education requirements for license renewal. The nursing board also maintains resources for nurses in the state, including the following:

    • How to retire a license
    • Forms and publications
    • Licensure compact status
    • Leadership programs
    • Continuing nursing education (CNE) catalog
    • Scope of practice for RNs and APRNs
    • State legal opinions that affect nursing practice
    • An avenue for students and nurses to register complaints

    How to Get Your Nursing License in Kentucky

    Prospective nurses receive licensure by passing the NCLEX-RN and submitting their fingerprints. Nurses who are licensed to practice in another state may apply for a Kentucky nursing license by endorsement. These candidates must meet certain educational criteria and pass the 35-question Jurisprudence Examination, which covers the legal aspects of practicing in Kentucky.

    The Kentucky Board of Nursing provides a free study guide for the Jurisprudence Examination on its website.

    How to Renew Your Nursing License in Kentucky

    The Kentucky Board of Nursing requires nurses to renew their license every year by October 31. Those who do not renew their license by midnight on October 31 cannot legally practice until they do so.

    RNs pay a $65 fee and submit a renewal application online. Nurses must also complete 14 approved CNE contact hours or seven contact hours and additional documentation of competency. The online application asks for the applicant’s:

    • Legal name on their Kentucky nursing license
    • Last four digits of their social security number
    • Nursing license number
    • Payment method
    • Documentation of completed CNE hours

    Salary and Employment for Nurses in Kentucky

    At $67,260, the annual average RN salary in KY is considerably lower than the national figure of $80,010. However, Kentucky’s cost of living is also lower, making it the 18th most affordable state in 2020.

    RNs seeking employment in Kentucky can expect to compete for job opportunities. A federal study of Kentucky’s nursing workforce from 2014 to 2030 estimates the supply will exceed demand by 10,500 RNs.

    The table below lists the five highest-paying metropolitan areas in the area and the mean RN salaries in each. Kentucky is unique as many of their top-paying cities share a border with neighboring states, including Indiana which is part of the NLC.

    Top-Paying Metropolitan Areas for RNs
    Metropolitan AreaMean Annual Salary
    Cincinnati, OH-KY-IN$72,400
    Louisville/Jefferson County, KY-IN$70,010
    Huntington — Ashland, WV-KY-OH$67,820
    Evansville, IN-KY$65,560
    Clarksville, TN-KY$65,190
    Source: BLS

    Best Hospitals to Work as a Nurse in Kentucky

    U.S. News & World Report evaluated 119 hospitals in Kentucky and selected the state’s best. Top-ranking hospitals must offer a full range of general and surgical services and hold rank as either a best regional hospital or receive three or more high performance ratings in procedures or conditions.

    • University of Kentucky Albert B. Chandler Hospital (Lexington)

      Nationally ranked in one adult specialty and two childrens specialties, this hospital has received 12 high performing marks in both specialties and procedures. The hospital is home to a level 1 trauma center, boasts 569 acute care beds, and employs 9,000 healthcare workers.
    • Baptist Health (Louisville)

      This facility received the American Nurses Credentialing Centers (ANCC) Magnet designation for excellence in nursing services three times. In Magnet facilities, nursing leaders develop and implement strategies to improve patient outcomes, like education and supporting greater autonomy. The 519-bed hospital has been counted among the best places to work in Kentucky 10 times.
    • St. Elizabeth Healthcare Edgewood-Covington Hospitals (Edgewood)

      While the teaching hospital is located in Edgewood, data from the Covington location was also used to rank the hospital third in Kentucky. St. Elizabeth offers general and specialty care, including virtual visits with healthcare professionals. The hospitals nursing staff has received the ANCCs Magnet designation for excellence. Boasting 502 beds, it is St. Elizabeth Healthcares flagship location.
    • Baptist Health (Lexington)

      This major medical research and education center is a 434-bed tertiary care center known for excellence in heart and cancer care. Baptist Health has held the ANCCs Magnet designation since 2005. The hospital encourages nurses to earn a BSN; 67% of the nursing staff completed a bachelors degree by 2018. Staff are also encouraged to seek national certification and publication in peer-reviewed journals.
    • Norton Healthcare (Louisville)

      This hospital is the regions leading orthopedic care provider, and Norton Childrens hospital is the only freestanding, full-service pediatric hospital in Kentucky. Norton also leads the region in cardiovascular and cancer care. The 605-bed hospital employs more than 4,000 nurses, with a stated mission to develop quality CNE opportunities for its healthcare staff.

    Resources for Nurses in Kentucky

    Kentucky values the nurses who provide healthcare for the state’s citizens. The following websites offer support and networking opportunities for nurses across Kentucky.

    • Kentucky Board of Nursing

      The Kentucky Board of Nursing develops and enforces state laws that govern the profession under the Nurse Practice Act. The board maintains resources for nurses, including information regarding licensure, practice and education, and current legal opinions and laws.
    • Kentucky Nurses Association

      This full-service professional organization promotes the RN role in healthcare delivery. Members enjoy priority access to events and job postings.
    • Kentucky Association of Nurse Practitioners & Nurse-Midwives

      This professional association for APRNs offers networking opportunities, awards, and scholarships. The group also supports legislative initiatives to improve patient care. Other resources include a prescription guide and a CNE learning calendar.
    • Kentucky Organization of Nurse Leaders

      This nonprofit organization strives to advance administrative leadership by providing educational programs, networking events, and scholarships. Membership is open to RNs who serve in leadership positions.
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    Frequently Asked Questions

    Is Kentucky a nursing compact state?

    Kentucky became a nursing compact state in March 2017. Nurses who hold a multistate license in Kentucky can practice in all neighboring states except Illinois and Ohio, since these states do not participate in the NLC.

    How long does it take to get a Kentucky nursing license?

    The Kentucky Board of Nursing reviews applications within 14 days of receipt. However, individuals who have been subject to any disciplinary or corrective action through the board may wait up to three months for their review.

    How do I transfer my nursing license to Kentucky?

    Out-of-state nurses must apply for licensure by endorsement. After paying a $65 fee, applicants should submit to a state and federal background check with fingerprints, pass the Jurisprudence Examination, and verify their original license.

    How many times can you take the NCLEX in Kentucky?

    Candidates who have not yet taken the NCLEX may hold a provisional license. Individuals who fail the examination have their provisional license revoked and may not practice until they pass the NCLEX. In Kentucky, candidates may take the NCLEX every 46 days. There is no limit to the number of times it can be taken.

    Top Nursing Programs in Kentucky

    Are you ready to earn your online nursing degree?

    Whether you’re looking to get your pre-licensure degree or taking the next step in your career, the education you need could be more affordable than you think. Find the right nursing program for you.