The Top Nursing Schools in Tennessee

February 21, 2022 , Modified on April 27, 2022 · 6 Min Read

Want to learn about nursing schools in Tennessee? Use this guide to explore state licensure and educational requirements for different nursing roles and find out about employment prospects.

mini logo 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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The Top Nursing Schools in Tennessee

For nurses seeking a career in a place that offers an exceptional quality of life, Tennessee has a lot to offer. In addition to plenty of job opportunities and a low cost of living, the state is also known for its friendly people and for the amenities offered in Nashville, the "Music City."

This guide covers information you need to know about pursuing a nursing career, including information on the best nursing schools in Tennessee for registered nurses (RNs) and advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs), salary and job outlooks, and the process of becoming a nurse in the Volunteer State.

Keep reading to learn more about becoming a nurse in Tennessee, or go straight to our list of the best nursing schools in Tennessee or our list of the best nurse practitioner (NP) programs in Tennessee.

The Best Nursing Schools in Tennessee

Tennessee is home to a diverse array of colleges and universities, including the University of Tennessee system and many private institutions. Below, we highlight some of the best overall nursing programs in the state.

Our Methodology: We use a data-driven methodology to rank the best nursing schools in Tennessee, making it easier for you to find a program that works for you. Our methodology is based on metrics that we believe matter most to students, including: academic quality, affordability, reputation, and program offerings.

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How to Choose a Nursing Program in Tennessee

Earning a degree is the first step to becoming an RN, but the best program for you depends on your individual career goals, finances, and life situation. For example, you may need a program that offers online classes to accommodate your work or family responsibilities, as well as the opportunity to complete your clinical rotations in a local hospital.

Compare program graduation and NCLEX pass rates. Higher rates indicate that the school provides adequate support to help students complete their program and a quality education that prepares them for nursing practice.

Because paying for nursing school is also a concern, compare program tuition rates with an eye toward financial aid options. Many schools offer assistance to qualified students, with multiple Tennessee state financial aid programs available. For example, the Graduate Nursing Loan Forgiveness Program benefits RNs who choose to teach at Tennessee nursing programs.

Accreditation is also crucial. Applicants for a nursing license must have a degree from a nursing program accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) or the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or approved by the Tennessee Board of Nursing. Accreditation indicates that the nursing program prepares graduates for nursing practice. Without a degree from an accredited program, you may struggle to get financial aid, qualify for a license or find employment, or be accepted into a graduate nursing education program.

Why Become a Nurse in Tennessee

Nurses in Tennessee can work at some of the best hospitals in the country, including Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville and St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital in Memphis.

The state is a Nurse Licensure Compact (NLC) state, meaning that when you earn a license to practice in Tennessee, that license is valid in the 33 other NLC states. Tennessee is also a right-to-work state, meaning that you are not required to join a union as a condition of employment. However, many nurses belong to the Tennessee Nurses Association, an affiliate of the American Nurses Association.

Although Tennessee isn't the highest paying state for nurses, the low cost of living and favorable tax laws mean nurses earn the same—or more—than those in other states. The Volunteer State consistently ranks among the best places to live, thanks to the relatively mild climate, excellent educational system, and a wealth of outdoor and cultural activities, including the thriving Nashville music scene.

Salary and Job Outlook for Nurses in Tennessee

Overall, nurses in Tennessee earn significantly less than those in other states; the median salary for nurses in Tennessee is $62,220, compared to $75,330 nationwide. This makes the state 47th in terms of earnings, but note that residents here do not pay state income tax on their earnings. This puts more money in nurses' pockets and partially closes the earnings gap. The cost of living in Tennessee is also among the lowest in the country, with prices for housing, groceries, transportation, and utilities lower than almost every state.

Despite the below average earning potential, nursing jobs are in demand in Tennessee. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a higher-than-average growth rate of 12.3% between 2018 and 2028 for RNs. Demand for NPs in Tennessee is slightly lower than the national average of 34.7% but still ranks among the top ten states in terms of demand.

The following table highlights the five highest-paying metropolitan areas in Tennessee. Memphis tops the list, thanks in large part to St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital, which calls the city home.

Highest Paying Cities for Nurses in Tennessee
Top Paying Metropolitan Areas Median Salary for RNs
Memphis $66,660
Nashville-Davidson—Murfreesboro—Franklin $65,300
Clarksville $65,200
Johnson City $61,710
Chattanooga $59,680
Source: BLS

Steps to Becoming a Nurse in Tennessee

The process of becoming a nurse in Tennessee is similar to other states and requires earning a degree and passing an exam to qualify for licensure. Licenses are issued by the Tennessee Board of Nursing, which (unlike other states) does not charge a fee for the initial license.

RN Requirements

Tennessee's process for becoming a nurse is the same as in most states. Candidates must complete an associate degree in nursing (ADN) or a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) program and pass the NCLEX exam to earn a license. The Tennessee Board of Nursing requires applicants to submit applications and undergo a criminal background check before registering for the NCLEX. You must also have transcripts sent directly to the board from your school. Application reviews can take up to six weeks to complete.

APRN Requirements

To become an APRN in Tennessee, you need a master of science in nursing (MSN) or a doctor of nursing practice (DNP), as well as a valid nursing license and proof of certification in your practice area. Applicants must also complete the mandatory Practitioner Profile Questionnaire. The application can be completed entirely online. Application reviews can take up to six weeks.

The Best Nurse Practitioner Programs in Tennessee

If you are interested in becoming an NP in Tennessee, check out the best NP programs in the state below.

Other Top Nursing Programs in Tennessee

Frequently Asked Questions About Nursing in Tennessee

Is Tennessee good for nurses?

Tennessee offers nurses no income tax, a low cost of living, and the chance to work in some of the best hospitals in the nation. Demand for nurses is projected to remain high, making this a good place to start or continue a nursing career.

Is there a nursing shortage in Tennessee?

Many states are experiencing a shortage of nurses, Tennessee included. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated staffing shortages, meaning that there are currently plenty of opportunities for nurses. Many hospitals offer sign-on bonuses, financial aid for education, and other perks to attract nurses, making now a great time to explore your options.

What is a nurse's starting salary in Tennessee?

PayScale reports that the median starting annual salary for RNs in Nashville is $64,430. NPs earn a median starting salary of about $91,690.

How do I transfer my nursing license to Tennessee?

If you are moving from another NLC state, your existing license is valid in Tennessee. You can practice using your current credentials but must apply for a license by endorsement to acquire a new multistate license with Tennessee as your state of residence. If you move to Tennessee from a non-NLC state, you must apply for a license by endorsement, which authorizes you to practice in the state.

Find Nursing Programs in Other States

State 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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