Become Nurse in Oklahoma: Requirements & Licensing
Learn how to become an RN in Oklahoma and what nurses in the state can expect to earn.
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Oklahoma's demand for nurses has never been greater. Healthcare and social assistance has reigned as the state's largest industry since 2008, after manufacturing and retail trade declined. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Oklahoma's manufacturing job losses mirror events in 33 other states in 2015. Today, nursing schools in Oklahoma offer graduates access to a robust job market.
Since 2018, the Sooner State has employed some 56,000 registered nurses (RNs), 18,000 licensed practical nurses (LPNs), and 3,572 advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs). Data from the governor's Council for Workforce and Economic Development show that the state expects a nursing shortage, with a ratio of 700 RNs per 100,000 people. This figure falls far below the national average.
Keep reading to learn how to become an RN in Oklahoma and what nurses in the state can expect to earn.
How to Become a Nurse in Oklahoma
Nurses work in a variety of settings, holding both entry-level and advanced positions. Different points of entry prepare individuals for nursing careers. While a two-year associate degree prepares nurses to work in Oklahoma for certain entry-level jobs, employers often prefer candidates with at least a bachelor's degree.
Regardless of the job and industry, all prospective nurses must complete state-approved programs from nursing schools in Oklahoma or beyond.
Choose the Path That's Right for You
In Oklahoma, the minimum degree required to become an RN is an associate degree in nursing (ADN). However, many RNs start with a bachelor's degree in nursing (BSN). Students who become RNs through an associate program can enroll in one of many online RN-to-BSN programs in Oklahoma to increase their job prospects.
Nurse aides and licensed practical nurses (LPNs) require less schooling, but also receive lower salaries.
Prospective advanced practice nurses and nurse educators must earn a graduate degree and additional certification. These candidates can earn a master of science in nursing (MSN) or a doctorate in nursing practice (DNP) at many nursing schools in Oklahoma. Graduate and doctoral students can choose from many specializations.
Earn Your Nursing Degree
Nursing students or those interested in pursuing an advanced degree must decide whether they want to study online, on campus, or in a hybrid program. Online nursing programs are popular because they allow working students to earn credits on their own time.
Many programs expect learners to fulfill science and math prerequisites before enrolling, and all students at nursing schools in Oklahoma must complete internships, practicums, and clinical hours. Learners pursuing an online nursing degree can usually complete these requirements at a healthcare facility near their place of residence.
Degree completion times vary based on the student's enrollment status, number of transfer credits, and degree level. Students who want to graduate quickly can choose from one of many accelerated nursing programs in Oklahoma.
Pass the Licensing Exam and Earn Your License
Prospective nurses must pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) exam for RNs, which costs $200 and requires six hours to complete. Nursing coursework and clinical experience can help prepare students for the exam, although additional studying may be necessary. While the exam is a prerequisite for licensure and mandatory for RN jobs, passing the test does not necessarily guarantee a job outright.
How Do Online Nursing Degree Programs Work?
A total of 82 Oklahoma nursing schools offer online training programs at all degree levels, including several highly rated colleges and universities. ADN programs require two years of study, BSN candidates typically finish in 2-4 years, and graduate degrees take a minimum of two years to complete.
While online nursing programs in Oklahoma typically offer coursework entirely online, clinical training requires in-person attendance. Online nursing students already working in a healthcare setting can often complete clinical hours at their places of employment.
Students without jobs might jumpstart their nursing careers with accelerated online programs. For example, candidates may earn an ADN in two years and become a licensed RN, then earn an RN-to-BSN in just two years while working, taking a total of four years to earn both degrees.
Virtually all top online nursing schools in Oklahoma maintain the same admission requirements for online and on-campus students.
Nursing Licensure in Oklahoma
The Oklahoma Board of Nursing licenses LPNs, RNs, and NPs, and prescribes educational standards for nurse training programs. The Oklahoma State Department of Health manages CNA certification and training.
Oklahoma CNAs hold at least one specialized license in developmentally disabled care, home healthcare, long-term care, adult day care, residential care, and/or medication. Each specialty area imposes its own in-class and clinical training requirements.
The nursing board offers programs to increase and retain its nursing workforce, such as a streamlined licensing process for active military and their spouses. The board also supports nurses struggling with alcohol and/or drug dependence through its Peer Assistance Program.
State licensing criteria varies according to the level of license sought. The following section describes the requirements for each type of Oklahoma nursing licensure.
State Requirements by Nursing Type
As the following table indicates, each licensure level imposes its own requirements for minimum degrees, clinical hours, licensing exams, renewal, and continuing education.
Oklahoma CNAs complete a state-approved training program, each with its own requirements depending on the specialization. Developmentally disabled direct care aides, home health aides, and long-term care aides must log a minimum of 75 hours of coursework and clinical training. Adult day care and residential aides complete at least 45 hours of combined classroom and clinical training.
Medication aides must hold a developmentally disabled care, home health, or long-term care license, plus 40 additional training hours that include 16 hours of fieldwork.
The Oklahoma State Board of Health considers reciprocity applications from out-of-state long-term care license-holders or those who have completed comparable training. Applicants can also request recognition of their non-Oklahoma credentials and obtain approval to take a board-approved CNA examination.
After meeting education requirements, prospective CNAs sit for a written examination administered by Headmaster, Health Certification Project, or Prometric. Renewal requires completion of eight hours of CNA work during the renewal period.
After completing their training programs, aspiring LPNs apply to the state board for approval to take the practical nursing exam (NCLEX-PN). The National Council of State Boards of Nursing administers the exam. Applicants must submit academic transcripts and proof of eligibility to work in the United States.
The NCLEX-PN is an adaptive computerized test that adjusts the difficulty of the questions to the test taker's performance. It includes 205 questions on care environment safety, health maintenance and promotion, and psychosocial and physiological integrity. Candidates must complete 85 questions within five hours, with pass or fail scores.
Out-of-state LPN license-holders can apply for licensing by reciprocity or take the Oklahoma NCLEX-PN exam. LPNs renew their licenses by completing 24 hours of continuing education or:
- Six credits of college-level nurse training
- 520 hours of LPN work in Oklahoma
- A board-approved refresher program
- Oklahoma certification in a nursing specialty
RN candidates may apply for licensure after earning an ADN or higher from a traditional or online RN program in Oklahoma. They must submit their academic transcripts, proof of relevant professional experience, answers to professional fitness questions, and fingerprints for a background check. Candidates with felony convictions cannot take the NCLEX-RN exam until five years have elapsed from the sentence completion date.
Like the NCLEX-PN exam, the NCLEX-RN exam adjusts the level of difficulty according to the competency of the candidate's answers. Examinees must answer 75 out of 265 questions over six hours with optional break times, and they either pass or fail.
Continuing education requirements for RN license renewal mirror those of LPNs, except RNs' six credits of college-level nursing courses must equal or exceed their licensing level, e.g. ADN, BSN, MSN, depending on the degree earned. RNs can satisfy continuing education credits with an additional specialized nursing license.
NPs in Oklahoma become licensed as advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs). While NPs provide many of the same services as doctors, including prescribing approved medications, they may do so only under the supervision, delegation, or management of a licensed physician.
NPs must hold an MSN with a specialty in family practice, gerontology, neonatal care, pediatric care, psychiatric health, or women's health. They must also hold an RN license and national certification. Each national certification specialization area requires a different examination, administered by a board-approved certifying body. These include the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners Certification Board, the American Nurses Credentialing Center, the National Certification Corporation, and the Pediatric Nursing Certification Board.
Candidates submit their academic records when applying for credentials. To renew, they must maintain RN licensure and national certification, or they can meet their renewal requirements with a board-approved refresher course, six credit hours of graduate-level coursework, or 520 hours of work as an APRN.
Frequently Asked Questions
A nurse's career ambitions determine "the best" nursing specialty to pursue. Many specialize in high demand areas like pediatrics, oncology, or emergency room care. Those who want to work in slower-paced environments may choose to become nurse educators or researchers.
That depends on an individual's interests, and what matters most to them. Students in nursing programs in Oklahoma choose certain fields for many reasons, including pay, stability, work setting, and compatibility. Nurses may choose a field where they can work directly with patients, such as pain management, or work independently analyzing data as a nurse researcher.
An RN in Oklahoma spends 2-3 years earning an associate degree, the minimum requirement for entry-level nursing jobs. While employers accept associate degree-holders, nurses with a four-year bachelor degree hold a better advantage in the hiring process. Both degrees require clinical experience. Future RNs must also take the NCLEX within 1-2 months of graduation.
Oklahoma offers promise for nurses at all levels, particularly RNs. The state is home to a diverse group of nurses who work primarily in hospitals. About 11,722 out of 56,000 RNs in Oklahoma are employed in hospitals, most as staff nurses. Annual mean wages for RNs reached $64,800 in 2019.
Oklahoma enacted the enhanced Nurse Licensure Compact (eNLC) in 2017 for RNs and LPNs. The eNLC allows RNs and LPNs with Oklahoma multi-state licenses to practice in other member states without applying for another license. Visit this page to find member states.
Oklahoma Nurse Salaries and Employment Trends
Due to the diverse makeup of Oklahoma's nursing workforce, salaries differ dramatically by industry, job, and educational experience. Entry-level nursing professionals, such as nursing assistants earn a mean annual salary of $26,030, according to BLS data. Mean annual salaries for LPNs reached $42,090 in 2019.
Salaries increase as nurses earn a higher education. RNs enjoy a mean annual wage of $64,800, and NPs take home $113,200 a year.
Projected employment increases also vary by occupation. Nationwide, the BLS projects jobs for all healthcare diagnosing or treating practitioners to increase by 10% from 2019-29. Employment of RNs nationally should increase by 7% and CNAs by 8%. Outpacing all other nursing positions, jobs for NPs should grow by 45%.
Nursing Resources for Oklahoma
Oklahoma Nurses Association
Members may join both the ONA and the American Nurses Association for one monthly fee. Benefits include networking events and meetings, volunteer opportunities, online continuing education, certification discounts, and industry publications.
Association of Oklahoma Nurse Practitioners
AONP lobbies on behalf of NPs and supports members through a political action committee. Membership benefits include discounted continuing education, career assistance, an insurance exchange, and scholarships.
Oklahoma Board of Nursing
The board licenses Oklahoma nurses and publishes standards for nurse preparation programs, administers licensure exams, and regulates the nursing profession. The board also hosts conferences and posts studies and research.
Oklahoma Emergency Nurses Association
This association advocates for patient safety and emergency nursing practices. Members can serve as volunteers on the Emergency Nurses Association's National Committee, a work team, or the advisory council.
Oklahoma Nursing Student Association
This state-based chapter of the National Student Nurses' Association welcomes nursing students at all levels, including pre-nursing. Members receive discounted national conference registration, along with NSNA benefits and scholarship opportunities.
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