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Washington Nursing Schools and Programs

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Schools, Licensing Requirements, and Resources

Washington is home to a thriving nursing industry. In 2019, nearly 10,000 licensed practical nurses (LPNs), more than 71,000 registered nurses (RNs), and about 6,000 advanced registered nurse practitioners (ARNPs) worked in the state, according to workforce data from the Washington Center for Nursing.

If you want to become a nursing professional in Washington, you must graduate from a state-approved nursing program. This guide covers four types of nursing programs, including certified nurse assistant (CNA), LPN, RN, and nurse practitioner (NP) programs. We explore the differences between on-campus and online nursing programs and include a full list of online nursing programs in Washington.

Advertisement 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.

Featured Online Programs

Why Attend Online Nursing Programs in Washington?

If you plan on becoming a nurse in Washington, you should consider attending a nursing program in the state. This makes applying for nursing licensure much easier since the Washington Nursing Commission keeps a list of approved nursing programs in the state. The average in-state tuition for nursing programs in Washington also remains below the national average, according to data from the College Board.

Students who enroll in nursing programs in the state may also qualify for the Washington Health Corps. This program offers scholarships and loan repayment to licensed healthcare professionals who work in critical shortage areas after graduating.

How to Become a Nurse in Washington

All nursing candidates across the U.S. generally undergo the same process to become a nurse. They must submit applications to the local nursing board, pay a fee, and take the NCLEX. However, each state possesses specific requirements, Washington included. The Nursing Care Quality Assurance Commission (NCQAC) requires forms and fees specific to Washington. Read on for a step-by-step path toward becoming a nurse in the Evergreen State.

  • 1. Choose the Path That’s Right for You

    Selecting the right path in nursing begins with choosing a degree that aligns with your career goals. An associate degree in nursing (ADN), as the minimum requirement to obtain a nursing license, qualifies you for taking the NCLEX and applying for a nursing license from Washington’s Department of Health.

    However, employers for entry-level nursing positions now prefer a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN), as the Institute of Medicine called for 80% of nurses to hold a BSN by 2020. Aspiring professionals considering advanced nursing careers as NPs or nurse anesthetists may want to pursue a higher-level degree, such as a master of science in nursing (MSN) or a doctor of nursing practice (DNP). If you plan on teaching nursing at the collegiate level, you need an advanced degree.

  • 2. Earn Your Nursing Degree

    In your search for a nursing program, you will find that nursing schools in Washington vary in format, requirements, and length. Online nursing degrees generally offer a more flexible and affordable option than attending an on-campus program. For example, earning an online nursing degree helps to avoid costs like transportation, textbooks, and housing. Also, keep in mind that most online programs still require fellowships, internships, or clinicals. Most nursing programs take around 2-4 years to complete, depending on the degree.

    Online BSN programs in Washington take about four years, while online MSN programs in Washington require about two years of full-time enrollment. Accelerated nursing programs in Washington allow students to complete their degrees in even less time.

  • 3. Pass the Licensing Exam and Earn Your License

    All graduates of Washington nursing schools must pass the NCLEX. This six-hour test costs $200, in addition to the other fees candidates must pay to NCQAC, and explores topics covered in nursing school. Students should devote plenty of personal time to preparing. Most nursing programs in Washington inform students about the format of the exam, but you can find more in-depth information on the exam’s website. Once you pass the exam, you can begin your job search with the proper credentials.

Online Nursing Degree Programs in Washington

Washington requires nurses to complete educational programs or degrees, depending on the type of license. Luckily, colleges and universities across the state offer several nursing degrees, so aspiring nurses can search for a program that works best for them. In addition to on-campus programs, students can find many online nursing programs in Washington to prepare for licensure.

What Courses Are Part of an Online Nursing Degree Program in Washington?

Online nursing schools in Washington train students for licensure at different levels. Each online nursing program sets a distinct curriculum, and even courses with the same name may vary substantially from school to school. For a general understanding of what to expect, we list three common courses below.

Development Through the Human Lifespan

Students learn about the biological and psychological growth that occurs as humans develop from infancy to old age. Learners explore healthy human development and factors that can interfere with physical well-being.

Pharmacotherapeutics and Pathophysiology

Pharmacology involves the study of medicine. This class focuses on drug therapy, including the benefits and risks involved with various drugs, along with the human pathophysiological responses to those medications.

Healthcare Systems

The U.S. healthcare system can seem complicated and difficult to understand. This course breaks it down for students, covering health insurance, reimbursements, and social determinants of health.

How Do Online Nursing Degree Programs Work?

Nursing students can find on-campus and online nursing programs in Washington. In reality, many online programs operate in a hybrid manner, where students take theory courses through a web-based format, watching lectures, reading materials, and participating in discussion forums through an online course management system. At the same time, learners usually must attend any clinical requirements on location at hospitals or other healthcare sites. In terms of material and admission requirements, distance learning programs rarely differ from on-campus degrees.

Many online programs operate in a hybrid manner, where students take theory courses through a web-based format, watching lectures, reading materials, and participating in discussion forums through an online course management system.

Still, even with the clinical components, online programs offer students flexibility and independence as they pursue their degrees. Traditionally, associate degrees last two years, bachelor’s degrees require four years, master’s degrees take two years, and doctorates require 3-4 years to complete. Online programs commonly offer accelerated options for students to finish more quickly. Alternatively, distance learning students who work full-time can enroll part-time and study at their own pace.

Nursing Licensure in Washington

Aspiring nursing professionals in Washington can apply for four different types of licensure: CNA, LPN, RN, and ARNP. Each type of license presents specific requirements. Washington’s Nursing Commission operates as a regulatory board, approving license applications and renewals. They also approve of nursing education programs in the state.

NPs need to apply for ARNP licensure to practice legally. They can apply for this license either with or without the authority to prescribe medications. Nursing professionals at all levels must also complete seven hours of HIV/AIDS training, which degree and training programs sometimes include.

State Requirements by Nursing Type

The following table shows a quick comparison of the requirements of each type of licensure. You can also read about how to obtain Washington nursing licensure in more detail below.

  • Certified Nurse Assistant

    To become a CNA in Washington, individuals must complete at least 85 hours of training through a state-approved program. The training also must include seven hours of HIV/AIDS training, according to state law. Aspiring CNAs can find these training programs in facilities like nursing homes, high schools, community colleges, and hospitals. The Nursing Commission publishes a list of approved CNA training programs on its website. At the end of the program, students take a competency exam.

    To apply, candidates must submit proof of their training and go through a background check. They must also answer personal data questions about topics such as liability claims. CNAs moving to Washington from another state need to verify their placement on their home state’s registry. CNAs in Washington need to renew their certification by their birthday every year. They do not need to complete any continuing education requirements for renewal.

    Washington Licensure Requirements

    • Education: State-approved training program

    • Additional Clinical Hours: 7 hours of HIV/AIDS training

    • Exams: Competency test

    • Renewal Frequency: Annually

    • Continuing Education: Not required

  • Licensed Practical Nurse

    Washington’s Nursing Commission requires LPN applicants to enroll in a state-approved and accredited nursing program. LPN programs can take a year to complete for full-time students or nearly two years for part-time students. In addition to theory courses, these programs frequently include simulated practice in the lab and real-life practice in clinical settings. The Nursing Commission provides a list of five approved nursing programs online. After finishing their program, candidates must pass the NCLEX-PN exam.

    The licensure application process involves submitting a program completion certificate, official transcripts, and examination scores. Each candidate must also pass a background check. LPN licenses expire every three years on the LPN’s birthday. To renew licensure, LPNs should complete 45 hours of continuing education and 531 hours of active practice during each three-year cycle. Although the Nursing Commission does not require LPNs to submit proof of their hours, they should still keep documentation in case of an audit.

    Washington Licensure Requirements

    • Education: State-approved LPN diploma or certificate program

    • Additional Clinical Hours: 7 hours of HIV/AIDS training

    • Exams: NCLEX-PN

    • Renewal Frequency: Every three years

    • Continuing Education: 45 hours within each three-year cycle

  • Registered Nurse

    Aspiring RNs must obtain either an ADN or BSN. The Nursing Commission provides a list of 25 associate programs and 12 bachelor’s programs in nursing approved by the state. Students fulfill clinical training while pursuing their degrees. However, they may also need to complete an additional seven hours of HIV/AIDS training if not included in the curriculum. After graduating, RN candidates need to earn a passing score on the national NCLEX-RN.

    To apply for licensure, each candidate must pass a background test and submit a degree completion certificate, educational transcripts, and NCLEX-RN scores. They must also answer personal data questions related to their mental and physical health status. Once licensed, RNs should renew their licenses every three years on or before their birthday. To successfully renew their licenses, RNs must enroll in at least 45 continuing education hours during each three-year cycle. They should also complete 531 hours of active practice in that time frame.

    Washington Licensure Requirements

    • Education: ADN or BSN

    • Additional Clinical Hours: 7 hours of HIV/AIDS training

    • Exams: NCLEX-RN

    • Renewal Frequency: Every three years

    • Continuing Education: 45 hours within each three-year cycle

  • Nurse Practitioner

    To work as an NP in Washington, candidates must apply for ARNP licensure. Applicants should first obtain RN licensure and then complete an approved MSN or DNP. The Nursing Commission also requires ARNP candidates to obtain certification within their specialization from a national certification agency. NPs can earn certification in family practice or more narrow specializations in areas like adult-gerontology or neonatal care.

    NPs must renew their licenses every three years at the same time they renew their RN licenses. They must complete 30 continuing education hours to renew their licenses, as well. If NPs possess prescriptive authority, they need an additional 15 continuing education hours covering pharmacology. They also must complete at least 250 hours of work in a clinical setting during the two years prior to renewal. Finally, NPs need to fulfill renewal requirements from their national certifying agency to keep their NP certification active.

    Washington Licensure Requirements

    • Education: MSN or DNP

    • Additional Clinical Hours: 7 hours of HIV/AIDS training; 250 clinical hours in the past two years if they did not recently complete a graduate program

    • Exams: Certification examination from a national certifying agency

    • Renewal Frequency: Every three years to maintain state license; certification renewal depends on certification agency

    • Continuing Education: 30 hours within each three-year cycle, in addition to 15 hours for prescriptive authority; plus requirements from the certifying agency

Online Nursing Degree Programs and Licensing in Washington FAQ

  • What Is a Good Specialty for Nursing?

    Nurses in Washington can specialize in several areas, including family practice, women’s health, psychiatry, and neonatal or geriatric care, among others. Aspiring nursing professionals should consider their interests and goals to find their ideal specialization.

  • How Long Does it Take to Get an RN License in Washington?

    An RN can earn a license in as little as two years by pursuing an associate degree. RNs who opt for the bachelor’s degree route traditionally take four years to complete their education. Accelerated or part-time programs also affect bachelor’s degree length.

  • What Nursing Field Makes the Most Money?

    NPs earn the most money, taking home mean annual wages of over $117,000 in 2018. Keep in mind, though, that NPs must also invest more money into their education to complete the required graduate degrees.

  • Is Washington a Good State For Nurses?

    Yes. Nursing professionals at every level in Washington earn greater mean annual wages than nationally. Plus, every nursing field in Washington may grow by double digits, according to estimations from Projections Central, an initiative from the U.S. Labor Department.

  • Is Washington a Nurse Compact State?

    No. Nurses moving to Washington from another state must apply for licensure by endorsement. Washington nurses who move away must also go through the licensure application process again in their new state.

Washington Nurse Salaries and Employment Trends

As the current nursing workforce grows older and retires, the nursing industry in Washington requires more nurses to replace retirees in the coming years, according to a 2017 study from the state’s Department of Health and Human Services.

Nursing professionals in Washington state earn higher mean annual wages than on the national level, as demonstrated in the following tables. You can read more details about salary and employment figures in Washington below, but remember this data depends on several factors and may not reflect your personal experience.

Nurse Salary and Projected Job Growth in Washington, by Type

  Annual Mean Wage Projected Job Growth(2016-2026)
Certified Nurse Assistant $32,130 14.5%
Licensed Practical Nurse $55,420 12.2%
Registered Nurse $82,670 20.7%
Nurse Practitioner $117,650 30.4%

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), Projections Central

Annual Mean Nurse Wages in Nearby States

  Certified Nurse Assistant Licensed Practical Nurse Registered Nurse Nurse Practitioner
United States $29,580 $47,050 $75,510 $110,030
Idaho $27,400 $44,280 $67,110 $102,600
Oregon $33,230 $53,240 $91,080 $110,010
California $35,220 $56,200 $106,950 $133,780
Hawaii $35,770 $50,930 $98,080 $120,570
Alaska $39,830 $58,250 $89,310 $122,880

Source: BLS

Certified Nurse Assistant

CNAs in Washington earned a mean annual wage of about $32,130 in 2018, a few thousand dollars more than the national average, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). BLS also estimates that the number of CNAs could grow by 14.5% from 2016-26, compared to a national growth rate of about 11.5%. BLS attributes this growth rate to the aging population of baby boomers, which could lead to a greater number of CNAs working at long-term care facilities.

Licensed Practical Nurse

LPNs who work in Washington state make a mean annual wage ($55,420) above the national average ($47,050) and its neighboring states. Additionally, the projected growth rate for LPNs in Washington reaches 12.2% from 2016-26. Together, these figures offer a promising future for LPNs in the state.

Registered Nurse

RNs earned a mean annual wage ($82,670) above national figures ($75,510) in 2018. Moreover, the projected job growth rate far surpasses national estimations. BLS data indicates the projected number of RNs increasing by 14.8% on the national scale from 2016-26. In Washington, BLS projects job growth for RNs to reach 20.7% in that same period.

Nurse Practitioner

Finally, NPs also take home mean annual wages above the national average. While nationally, NPs made a mean annual wage of $110,030 in 2018, these professionals working in Washington earned an annual mean wage of $117,650 in the same period. This also surpasses the average income for NPs in Washington’s neighboring states, Oregon and Idaho. NPs in Washington can also look forward to a projected job growth rate of 30.4%.

Nursing Resources for Washington

  • Washington State Nurses Association With more than 17,000 members, WSNA operates as an advocacy group to represent nursing professionals' interests in the state legislature. The organization also hosts conferences and educational webinars.
  • ARNPs United of Washington State Specifically for ARNPs, this association organizes conferences, offers networking opportunities, and publishes a newsletter. The group also advocates for these professionals in the state legislature.
  • Washington Nursing Commission The Nursing Commission functions as Washington's regulatory board for the nursing industry. Nurses and aspiring nurses can visit the website to learn about Washington nursing licensure and continuing education requirements, along with any changes in laws, like prescriptive authority for NPs.
  • Nursing Students of Washington State This statewide student organization offers a directory of nursing scholarships for on-campus and online nursing schools in Washington. The group also hosts an annual convention for students to network.
  • Washington State Council of the Emergency Nurses Association This not-for-profit association for emergency nurses organizes events throughout the year, including symposiums and continuing education courses. Members can search for jobs through the WA-ENA career center.

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Advertisement 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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