Become a Nurse in Kentucky: Requirements, Licensing, and Salary Outlook icon

Become a Nurse in Kentucky: Requirements, Licensing, and Salary Outlook

| Gayle Morris, BSN, MSN

Become a Nurse in Kentucky: Requirements, Licensing, and Salary Outlook mini logo

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 13%, the projected job growth rate for RNs in Kentucky is higher than most other occupations statewide. Two large metropolitan areas on the Kentucky border offer unique opportunities for nurses to work outside of the state.

A Kentucky nursing license can lead to many lucrative jobs and a rewarding career helping others.


Degree Required
License Required
Fees
Job Outlook

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’ knowledge and practical abilities.
Apply for Jobs at Local Hospitals.
Licensed nurses may apply for jobs at hospitals, physicians’ offices, and other healthcare facilities. Many candidates prefer to gain clinical experience before pursuing an advanced degree. Learn more about hospitals in Kentucky.
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.
The Complete Guide to How to Become a Registered Nurse

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.

Licensure for New Nurses

The Kentucky State Board of Nursing requires all prospective nurses to meet certain eligibility requirements. Each requirement is mandatory to receive licensure and practice nursing.

RN Licensure Eligibility Requirements

RNs seeking licensure in Kentucky must meet the following standards. Visit the Kentucky Board of Nursing website for further information.

  • Earn a degree from an accredited and approved nursing school.
  • Submit a verification of completion from an approved accredited school.
  • Submit to state and federal background checks with proof of identification.
  • File fingerprints with the state police.
  • Pay a $51.25 background check fee.
  • Register with Pearson VUE and receive an authorization to test (ATT).
  • Pay the $200 NCLEX-RN application fee.
  • Pass the NCLEX-RN.
  • Pass the Kentucky Jurisprudence Examination.
  • Apply for state licensure ($125).

Steps to Apply for an RN License

New nurses can apply for an RN license by examination on the Kentucky Board of Nursing website. The process usually involves the following steps:

  1. Submit an application with the Kentucky Board of Nursing ($125).
  2. Register and pay for the NCLEX-RN with Pearson VUE ($200).
  3. Undergo state and federal background checks and fingerprinting.
  4. Take the Kentucky Jurisprudence Examination ($15).
  5. Submit proof of completion from an approved nursing program.
  6. Provide an ATT document from Pearson VUE.

Applicants who attended nursing school outside of Kentucky must also complete three hours of continuing education in domestic violence and 1.5 hours in pediatric head abuse trauma.

Licensure for Nurses From Different States

Nurses licensed in another state may apply for Kentucky licensure by endorsement. While the board reviews these applications within 14 days of receiving them, reviews for candidates with a disciplinary history or conviction may take up to three months.

Steps to Apply for an RN License

The Nurse Licensure Compact (NLC) allows licensed nurses to practice in participating compact states, including Kentucky, without getting a new license. Nurses without a multistate license must apply for licensure by endorsement to receive a Kentucky nursing license.

  1. Complete an endorsement application and pay the $165 nonrefundable application fee.
  2. Take the Jurisprudence Examination ($15).
  3. Submit to state and federal background checks.
  4. Verify original out-of-state licensure.
  5. Provide transcripts from any schools the applicant may have attended in:
    1. California
    2. Connecticut
    3. Hawaii
    4. Kansas
    5. Michigan
    6. Washington
Top Nursing Schools and Programs in Kentucky

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 $64,730, 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. While the state's 13% projected job growth rate exceeds the national rate of 7%, 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 Area Mean Annual Salary
Cincinnati, OH-KY-IN $71,980
Louisville/Jefferson County, KY-IN $66,440
Evansville, IN-KY $65,410
Clarksville, TN-KY $64,990
Huntington — Ashland, WV-KY-OH $64,660
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.

  • Nationally ranked in one adult specialty and two children's 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.
  • This facility received the American Nurses Credentialing Center's (ANCC) Magnet designation for excellence in nursing services three times. In Magnet facilities, nursing leaders develop and implement strategies to improve patient outcomes, from education to supporting greater autonomy. The 519-bed hospital has been counted among the best places to work in Kentucky 10 times.
  • 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 hospital's nursing staff has received the ANCC's Magnet designation for excellence. Boasting 502 beds, it is St. Elizabeth Healthcare's flagship location.
  • 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 ANCC's Magnet designation since 2005. The hospital encourages nurses to earn a BSN; 67% of the nursing staff completed a bachelor's degree by 2018. Staff are also encouraged to seek national certification and publication in peer-reviewed journals.
  • This hospital is the region's leading orthopedic care provider, and Norton Children's 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.

  • 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.
  • This full-service professional organization promotes the RN role in healthcare delivery. Members enjoy priority access to events and job postings.
  • 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.
  • 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.

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

NurseJournal.org 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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