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


Updated November 29, 2022

Nurses in Pennsylvania can expect ample employment and career advancement opportunities. Consult this guide for information about nursing schools in PA, licensure information, and the best hospital employers.
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Prospective nurses in PA can find salaries in the top 25% and the nation's fifth-highest employment level of registered nurses (RNs), according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). U.S. News & World Report also ranks two nursing schools in PA among the country's best for graduate degrees: University of Pennsylvania and University of Pittsburgh.

Keep reading for information about how to become a nurse in Pennsylvania, expected salaries, and projected employment growth rates.

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How to Become a Nurse in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania RNs complete nursing programs in PA to receive degrees in the field. Graduates are prepared to pass the National Council Licensure Examination for RNs (NCLEX-RN) and qualify for state RN licensing. The steps below outline the process of becoming an RN in Pennsylvania, along with career advancement strategies.

Apply to an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) Program
RNs qualify for licensure with two-year ADNs or four-year BSNs. Admission requirements typically include high school transcripts, science and math prerequisites, and SAT or ACT scores.
Pass the NCLEX-RN Exam to Receive RN Licensure.
Graduates usually sit for the NCLEX-RN about a month after completing their program. The NCLEX-RN tests both nursing knowledge and skills.
Apply for Jobs at Local Hospitals.
The Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry reports that nurses most commonly find employment in hospitals.
Learn More About Hospitals in Pennsylvania
Advance Your Career With a Graduate Degree or Certification.
A graduate nursing degree or specialty certification can lead to more career opportunities and higher pay. For example, master’s-level nurse practitioners (NPs) often earn $30,000 more per year.
Maintain and Renew Licensure and Certifications.
Pennsylvania RN licenses renew every two years and require 30 hours of continuing education per renewal period and a renewal fee.
The Complete Guide to How to Become a Registered Nurse

Pennsylvania Board of Nursing

The Pennsylvania State Board of Nursing protects the health and safety of Pennsylvanians through regulation, licensure, approving nursing colleges in PA, and enforcing practice standards.

The board's website offers a comprehensive guide to nursing licensure in the state. The website provides licensing information for new nurses and existing RNs from other states. The board also posts meeting minutes covering pending legislation such as enabling the state to join the Nurse Licensure Compact (NLC), which allows nurses in compact states to practice under multistate licenses.

How to Get Your Nursing License in Pennsylvania

The Pennsylvania nursing board offers two options for becoming licensed RNs: licensure by examination for new nurses and licensure by endorsement for licensed out-of-state nurses. The board offers tips for aiding licensing applications, such as advising new RNs to apply while in nursing school to begin the criminal history check.

Licensure for New Nurses

This section covers the eligibility requirements and licensing steps for new nursing graduates who have never held an RN license in any state.

RN Licensure Eligibility Requirements

  • ADN or BSN from an accredited, board-approved nursing school or RN training program
  • Passing score on the NCLEX-RN
  • Criminal history record check
  • $95 application fee
  • Three hours of continuing education in child abuse reporting from a board-approved provider

Steps to Apply for an RN License

  1. Review the nursing board's nursing licensure guide and tips for reducing application processing time.
  2. Register for the NCLEX-RN exam with Pearson VUE.
  3. Submit an online application to the nursing board through the Pennsylvania Licensing System.
  4. In addition to the criminal history check, submit a background check from every state you have lived, worked, or attended school in the previous 10 years.

Estimated timeline: The nursing board advises candidates to allow 12-15 weeks from submitting the application (after nursing program completion) to issuing the license.

Licensure for Nurses From a Different State

This section outlines the licensure by endorsement process for RNs who hold licenses in another state and wish to practice in Pennsylvania.

Steps to Apply for RN License

  1. Review the nursing board's nursing licensure guide.
  2. Submit an online application to the nursing board through the Pennsylvania Licensing System and pay the $120 application fee.
  3. Complete three hours of continuing education in child abuse reporting from a board-approved provider.
  4. Submit a criminal background check from every state in which you have lived, worked, or attended school during the past 10 years.
  5. Provide official transcripts from the institution(s) where you completed your RN education.
  6. Submit to the PA nursing board a verification of licensure from your current state(s).

Estimated timeline: The nursing board advises allowing 11-14 weeks from application submission to licensure decision.

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How to Renew Your Nursing License in Pennsylvania

Professionals must renew PA nursing license every two years. Online applications typically open 30-60 days before the expiration date. Licensees submit renewal applications through the Pennsylvania Licensing System. The state requires a $122 fee for each two-year renewal period.

Each nurse renewing a PA nursing license must complete 30 continuing education hours from board-approved providers, such as professional nursing or accredited graduate nursing programs, accredited hospitals and healthcare facilities, and federal or state agencies. In addition, a renewal applicant must complete a board-approved child abuse recognition and reporting course for each two-year cycle.

The nursing board averages three days to issue renewal licenses after receiving completed applications.

Salary and Employment for Nurses in Pennsylvania

The BLS ranks Pennsylvania RN salaries in the top 25% of U.S. states. RNs in PA make a mean salary of $74,170 as of May 2020. Statewide, RNs earn less than the national mean of $80,010. As the following table indicates, nurses working in the Reading metropolitan area make a little more than the national average, with a mean salary of $81,980. Philadelphia-based RNs fare better than the state average and earn $79,980.

Pennsylvania's projected employment growth rate for 2018-2028 is 12.5%, according to Projections Central, exceeding the national projected growth rate of 7%.

Top-Paying Metropolitan Areas for RNs
Metropolitan Area Mean Salary for RNs
New York — Newark — Jersey City $94,920
Reading $81,980
Philadelphia — Camden — Wilmington $79,980
Chambersburg — Waynesboro $78,590
Harrisburg — Carlisle $76,580
Source: BLS

Best Hospitals to Work as a Nurse in Pennsylvania

U.S. News & World Report ranks hospitals based on two subcomponents: specialty rankings of patients with rare or life-threatening conditions and ratings for patients with more common ailments. The table below lists U.S. News' top five Pennsylvania hospitals and provides a starting point for your job search.

  • This vast hospital network based in Philadelphia includes top-ranked Penn Presbyterian Medical Center and the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, which have received Magnet status for nursing excellence.
  • UPMC Shadyside employs nearly 20,000 nurses and maintains Magnet status, offering 50 nursing specialty roles.
  • Philadelphia-based Jefferson Health employs nearly 3,000 nurses caring for patients in specialty areas that include cancer, diabetes and endocrinology, gastroenterology and gastrointestinal surgery, geriatrics, and neurology and neurosurgery.
  • This Lancaster-area hospital maintains an affiliation with Penn Medicine and Lancaster General Health to offer nursing specialties in critical care, surgery, pediatrics, psychiatry, and more.
  • This Hershey-based Magnet hospital employs 3,200 nurses and offers a collaborative working environment, which empowers nurses to lead in patient safety, professional development, and performance improvement.

Resources for Nurses in Pennsylvania

  • The state nursing board confers licenses to eligible licensed practical nurses, RNs, and NPs. The board also regulates the nursing profession and approves nursing programs in PA. Its website posts updates on COVID-19 and the opioid crisis, nursing education guidance, and telemedicine information, along with forms and resources for licensees.
  • Aiming to serve PA nurses and their patients, PSNA offers continuing education resources like a board-approved child abuse reporting course. PSNA promotes advocacy, networking opportunities and events, and a nursing journal for practitioners. The organization's Young Nurse Professionals group provides a community for new RNs.
  • This group of frontline nurses advocates for quality patient care, safe staffing levels in hospitals and nursing homes, and giving nurses a voice in the profession. Its website provides access to a survey of 1,000 nurses across the state detailing the dangers to patient care due to chronic understaffing and high turnover.
  • PONL members in five regions throughout Pennsylvania benefit from events, career listings, and resources targeted for nurse leaders. PONL advocates to the state and posts position papers on nurse staffing ratios, full practice authority for NPs, and telemedicine access. Nurses with fewer than two years of leadership experience can join at a reduced rate.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I get a PA nursing license?

To get a PA nursing license, you must earn an ADN or a BSN from a state board-approved, accredited nursing school and pass the NCLEX-RN exam and background checks. An RN licensed in another state can apply for PA licensure by endorsement with proof of licensure, RN training, and a criminal background check in their state.

How much is it to renew an RN license in PA?

RNs pay $122 for their renewal licenses every two years. Renewal requires 30 hours of continuing education from a state nursing board-approved provider and completion of a child abuse reporting course, which may carry additional costs.

Is Pennsylvania a Nurse Compact State?

No. Pennsylvania is not yet an NLC state, but the state introduced legislation to join the NLC in 2019. If passed, this will allow PA nurses to practice in other NLC states. This compact would also permit RNs from other NLC states to practice in PA under multistate licenses.

How many times can you take the NCLEX in PA?

Currently, there are no restrictions on the number of times a candidate can take the NCLEX-RN. Examinees can apply to retake the exam at any time, but the time between examination dates spans about 46 days.

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