Become a Nurse in North Carolina: Requirements, Licensing, and Salary Outlook

by NurseJournal Staff

Curious how to become a registered nurse in North Carolina? This guide covers all you need to know about nursing schools in NC and how to get a NC RN license.

Become a Nurse in North Carolina: Requirements, Licensing, and Salary Outlook
Degree Required
License Required
Job Outlook

Working as a registered nurse (RN) in North Carolina comes with many advantages. The state has a below-average cost of living, according to World Population Review, and data from Projections Central indicates a projected 10.8% job growth rate for NC RNs from 2018-2028. North Carolina is also a member of the Nurse Licensure Compact (NLC), allowing nurses from other compact states to seamlessly get licensure in the Tar Heel State.

If you are interested in how to become a registered nurse in North Carolina, you can learn everything you need to know in this guide.

How to Become a Nurse in North Carolina

The pathway to becoming an RN in North Carolina requires the same general steps as most other states. Earn your degree, pass the National Council Licensure Examination for RNs (NCLEX-RN), apply for any licensure and certifications, and find a job. You can get more information on how to become a registered nurse in North Carolina below.

Apply to an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) Program
These nursing programs in NC deliver anatomy, physiology, and other vital nursing courses. Students also participate in lab experiences and supervised clinical rounds. An associate degree typically requires two years, while a bachelor’s degree takes four years to complete.
Pass the NCLEX-RN Exam to Receive RN Licensure.
The NCLEX-RN exam evaluates each candidate’s readiness to work in the field. If you pass the exam, you can apply for RN licensure through the North Carolina Board of Nursing.
Apply for Jobs at Local Hospitals.
Many hospitals hire entry-level and recently licensed nurses. If you join a professional association or network while pursuing your degree, it can become easier to make lasting connections and land your first job.
Learn More About Hospitals in North Carolina
Advance Your Career With a Graduate Degree or Certification.
A graduate degree, like a master’s or doctorate, can help you gain employment in advanced practice nursing or other focus areas like nursing education or informatics. Certification can also qualify you to work in more specialty fields.
Maintain and Renew Licensure and Certifications.
Nurses continue to participate in continuing education throughout their careers to renew their licenses and certifications.
The Complete Guide to How to Become a Registered Nurse

North Carolina Board of Nursing

When applying for licensure, you should become familiar with the North Carolina Board of Nursing. The state organization issues, renews, and revokes licenses. Nurses can also look up licenses on the board's website, file complaints, or self-report issues.

The board's website also provides several resources for nurses, including published nursing laws, license renewal information, scope and practice information, and frequently asked questions about nursing licensure. Nursing students and RN candidates can also access the New Nurse Booklet, which details everything about the profession.

How to Get Your Nursing License in North Carolina

Aspiring nurses can take two different routes to get a NC RN license. New nurses who just completed their associate or bachelor's degrees apply for the licensure by examination. Licensed nurses who move to North Carolina from other states can apply for licensure by endorsement.

Licensure for New Nurses

Nurses applying for professional licensure for the first time must follow several steps before they qualify for the credential. The tables below can help you plan out your application process.

RN Licensure Eligibility Requirements

Before applying, make sure you meet all of the RN licensure eligibility requirements. Here's what you need to apply:

  • An associate or bachelor's degree approved by the North Carolina Board of Nursing; for a nursing school in NC, research these lists of approved bachelor's and associate degree programs
  • A passing score on the NCLEX-RN exam
  • A completed application form
  • A fingerprint-based criminal background check from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and State Bureau of Investigation
  • $75 application fee

Steps to Apply for an RN License

The application process includes registering for and taking the NCLEX-RN, along with a background check. Here's a step-by-step guide on how to apply:

  1. Graduate with a board-approved associate or bachelor's degree in nursing.
  2. Fill out a fingerprint-based criminal background check from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and State Bureau of Investigation.
  3. Apply to take the NCLEX-RN through the NC Nurse Gateway system and pay a $75 fee.
  4. Send your electronic school verification or official transcript copies to the North Carolina Board of Nursing.
  5. After receiving an authorization to test, which can take up to 10 days, take the NCLEX-RN through Pearson VUE.
  6. After four weeks, receive your NCLEX-RN results.
Licensure for Nurses From a Different State

If a nurse moves to North Carolina and already possesses licensure in another state, they do not need to follow the same steps to apply for licensure as a new nurse. Instead, they can apply through endorsement by demonstrating the validity of their previous license.

Steps to Apply for an RN License

As a NLC state, nurses moving to North Carolina from other compact states can also apply through endorsement. Each candidate should:

  1. Fill out an application with their name, license number, state of current license, positions held for their past two nursing employees, a list of all states where they hold licensure, Social Security number, and a criminal background check.
  2. Request verification of their license through the Nursys system.
  3. Check the status of their application through the Nurse Gateway online portal.
Top Nursing Schools and Programs in North Carolina

How to Renew Your Nursing License in North Carolina

RNs must renew their nursing license every two years on the last day of their birth month. They should hold an active license, and their current license should be 90 days within the expiration date for renewal. Each nurse must also pay a $100 fee to renew their license.

RNs must also complete a certain number of continuing education hours. They can choose among the following options:

  • 30 contact hours of continuing education
  • 15 contact hours of continuing education in addition to: 640 hours of active practice within the past two years; or completion of a nursing project; or authoring an article, paper, or book in nursing; or conducting nursing continuing education presentations
  • National certification or recertification from a national credentialing body
  • A board-approved refresher course
  • Two college credits of postlicensure academic education in nursing

Salary and Employment for Nurses in North Carolina

RNs in North Carolina earn a mean salary of $68,950, a bit lower than the national median RN salary of $75,330, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). However, as the table below demonstrates, the city with the highest mean pay for RNs — Fayetteville — is on par with the national average.

Employment opportunities remain positive in North Carolina. Over 99,000 RNs work in the state, per BLS data, ranking eighth in the country. Projections Central forecasts that the number of RNs in NC will increase by 10.8% from 2018-2028 — faster than the national rate of 7%.

Top-Paying Metropolitan Areas for RNs
Metropolitan Area Mean Salary for RNs
Fayetteville $75,530
Winston-Salem $70,640
Charlotte — Concord — Gastonia $70,420
Raleigh $70,110
Greenville $68,390
Source: BLS

Best Hospitals to Work as Nurse in North Carolina

After earning their degree and receiving their license, prospective nurses can begin searching for a job. Research employment opportunities at hospitals, doctors' offices, nursing homes and long-term care facilities, community health centers, and schools.

The list below includes five of the best hospitals in North Carolina as ranked by U.S. News & World Report. The publication considers factors like patient outcomes, patient experience, expert opinions, and other care-related indicators, like nurse staffing.

  • As a part of the Duke Health system, this hospital operates as a full-service specialized care facility with departments in cancer care, neurosurgery, and lung disease. The Duke University Health System employs over 22,000 full-time workers.
  • Based in Chapel Hill, the University of North Carolina Hospitals deliver care to over 200,000 patients each year. The hospitals, including the teaching Memorial Hospital, Neuroscience Hospital, Women's Hospital, Children's Hospital, and Cancer Hospital, conduct medical research and provide patient care.
  • This medical center operates as a part of the Atrium Health System, which employs over 17,000 nurses in total. CMC runs a level I trauma center and an organ transplant center. It also serves as a teaching hospital and a satellite for UNC-Chapel Hill's medical school.
  • Greenville-based Vidant Medical Center serves patients with nearly 1,000 hospital beds and other outpatient services. In addition to a specialized care referral center, it runs a Neuroscience Intensive Care Unit, with a focus on caring for stroke patients.
  • This hospital began operating in 1894 as a nonprofit medical center. Now, the hospital features several departments, including two skilled nursing facilities in rehabilitation and long-term nursing care. The hospital employs over 1,700 nurses.

Resources for Nurses in North Carolina

  • NCNA operates as a professional organization for nurses in the state. Members can access educational resources, participate in continuing education courses, or teach classes. They can become involved in networking events and attend an annual conference. The group sponsors scholarships for students and resources for early-career nurses.
  • As a part of NCNA's mission to serve the needs of its members, the group features a job board with nearly 1,000 employers and over 11,000 job postings. Members can search for job postings in many different roles, including RN and health center director.
  • Originally founded as an offshoot of the NCNA, the group now operates independently and helps individuals advance from student nurses to professionals. The group publishes several resources, including NCLEX study guides, links to nursing scholarships, and help with cover letters and resumes.
  • Nurses who specialize in emergency care can join this organization which offers discounts to conferences, free continuing education hours, and networking opportunities. Student members can apply for scholarships, and all members can participate in webinars and symposiums for continuing education purposes.

Frequently Asked Questions

How much do nurses make in North Carolina?

Nurses in North Carolina make a mean salary of $68,950, according to BLS data. However, this number does not represent the full range of potential pay. Specific RN salaries in NC vary based on several factors, including location, experience, and education. Nurses in cities tend to earn higher pay than individuals in rural areas, while RNs with bachelor's degrees may have greater earning potential than nurses with associate degrees. Salaries also increase with experience.

How long does it take to become an RN in NC?

Traditionally, it can take 2-4 years to complete a nursing program in NC. An associate degree lasts two years for full-time students. Bachelor's degrees traditionally take four years to complete, but part-time study can extend this timeline. Other nurses may pursue different routes, working as licensed practical nurses (LPNs) before enrolling in LPN-to-RN bridge programs. This pathway can take longer, depending on each nurse's plan.

Is there demand for nurses in North Carolina?

Yes. Like in every state, baby boomers need more healthcare services as they age, which drives demand. In addition, the projected growth rate for the nursing profession in North Carolina outpaces national projects. The state received a projected employment growth rate of 10.8% from 2018-2028, according to Projections Central.

What are the top-paying cities for nurses in North Carolina?

The top-paying city for nurses in North Carolina is Fayetteville, where RNs earn a mean salary of $75,530, according to BLS data. Other top-paying metropolitan areas include Raleigh, Winston-Salem, Charlotte — Concord — Gastonia, and Greenville. In these cities, nurses earn mean salaries ranging from about $68,000-$70,000.

Top Nursing Programs in North Carolina 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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