Become a Nurse In Wisconsin: Requirements, Licensing, and Salary Outlook


Updated November 23, 2022

Learn about Wisconsin RN license requirements and how to get or renew a Wisconsin nursing license.
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Job Outlook

Registered nurses (RNs) are in demand across Wisconsin, and RN jobs are growing at a faster rate than the national average of 7%. In 2020, nurses in Wisconsin took home an annual mean wage of more than $73,000.

If nursing in a state with high salaries and strong job growth appeals to you, keep reading to learn how to become an RN in Wisconsin.

How to Become a Nurse in Wisconsin

Individuals seeking a Wisconsin nursing license must earn an associate degree in nursing (ADN) or a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) from an accredited school and pass the National Council Licensure Examination-Registered Nurse (NCLEX-RN). Professionals with an Enhanced Nurse Licensing Compact multistate license do not need to obtain a Wisconsin RN license.

Apply to an ADN or a BSN Program
You must attend an approved program and earn a two-year ADN or four-year BSN degree. While it is quicker and cheaper to earn an ADN, BSN-holders enjoy more career options and mobility.
Pass the NCLEX-RN to Receive RN Licensure.
The NCLEX-RN assesses skills and knowledge related to nursing practice, health promotion, and the legal and ethical aspects of nursing. The Wisconsin Board of Nursing requires candidates to pass the exam before they earn a Wisconsin nursing license.
Apply for Jobs at Local Hospitals.
Hospitals collectively employ 63,630 nurses in Wisconsin. The state is home to large academic medical centers in addition to smaller suburban and rural facilities.
Learn More About Hospitals in Wisconsin
Advance Your Career With a Graduate Degree or Certification.
Consider earning an MSN to become a nurse practitioner or administrator. You might also explore specialty certification options. Many schools offer accelerated bridge programs for BSN-holders.
Maintain and Renew Licensure and Certifications.
To renew your Wisconsin RN license, you must respond to the Nursing Workforce Survey, fill out an application, pay a $73 fee, and submit your renewal form by February 28 in even-numbered years. Unlike most states, Wisconsin does not require continuing education for renewal.
The Complete Guide to How to Become a Registered Nurse

Wisconsin Board of Nursing

The Wisconsin Board of Nursing oversees nursing licensure applications and renewals, maintaining a list of approved nursing schools, approving refresher courses for license renewal after five years or more of expiration, examining reported violations, and determining appropriate disciplinary action.

Wisconsin participates in the Enhanced Nursing License Compact (NLC), and the Board provides information on the compact and participating states' current statuses. The Wisconsin Board of Nursing also oversees the Professional Assistance Procedure. This program gives nurses struggling with substance abuse the chance to continue practicing without public discipline if they meet certain requirements.

How to Get Your Nursing License in Wisconsin

Nurses may obtain a Wisconsin RN license by examination or endorsement.

New nurses earn licensure by examination and take the NCLEX-RN, while licensure by endorsement is for out-of-state nurses who want a Wisconsin RN license.

Wisconsin participates in the NLC, which allows nurses from other participating states to practice in Wisconsin without obtaining a new license. Nurses who are licensed in non-NLC states must apply for a Wisconsin nursing license but do not need to take the NCLEX-RN again.

Licensure for New Nurses

The Board of Nursing website offers information about how to apply for a Wisconsin nursing license and the NLC, education requirements, and the application form.

RN Licensure Eligibility Requirements

  • Degree from accredited/approved nursing school, with official transcript sent directly from the school
  • Passing score on the NCLEX-RN
  • Background check with fingerprinting (for multistate license)
  • Completed form, including description of your last five years of nursing activity
  • Description of any convictions, disciplinary actions, failed attempts at licensing, or other relevant information
  • Fee (along with a test fee for new nurses)

While the application process for nursing licensure varies by state, new nurses who wish to work in Wisconsin must complete the following steps.

Steps to Apply for an RN License

  • Go to the Board's website and review the application form to ensure that you meet the requirements for a Wisconsin RN license. Use this form to apply for a multistate license.
  • Gather the materials you need, and if necessary, ask your school to send your official transcript.
  • Fill out the application.
  • The Wisconsin Board of Nursing typically reviews applications within two weeks of receiving all necessary documentation. During peak times, the process may take up to a month. You may be able to apply for a temporary license and work under an RN's supervision while waiting for your results.

Licensure for Nurses From a Different State

Nurses from states that participate in the NLC may work in Wisconsin without earning a Wisconsin RN license. Out-of-state nurses from non-NLC states must apply for a Wisconsin nursing license.

Steps to Apply for RN License

If you hold a current nursing license from another state that does not participate in the NLC, you must apply for a Wisconsin nursing license by endorsement.

  • Review the application form to be certain that you meet the requirements for a Wisconsin RN license.
  • Fill out the application and send for all necessary documentation, including a confirmation of your existing nursing license.
  • The Wisconsin Board of Nursing typically approves or rejects applications within two weeks, or up to a month during peak times.
Top Nursing Schools and Programs in Wisconsin

How to Renew Your Nursing License in Wisconsin

Unlike most states, Wisconsin does not require nurses to complete continuing education credits before renewing their Wisconsin nursing license. However, some employers do require it, or expect nurses to periodically complete professional development programs.

You must renew your Wisconsin RN license every two years, by February 28 in even-numbered years. You can fill out the form and find mailing instructions online.

Salary and Employment for Nurses in Wisconsin

In Wisconsin, the median nursing salary was $74,760, slightly below the national median of $75,330, and the state's cost of living is lower than the national figure. Job growth rates in Wisconsin appear promising over the next decade, and nurse employment is high. Only 1.3% of nurses statewide are unemployed and looking for work.

In metropolitan areas, higher costs of living generally translate to more competition between employers and higher salaries for RNs. Median salaries are highest in Madison and remain above the state median in the Milwaukee and La Crosse metropolitan areas. The median RN salary is slightly lower in smaller metropolitan regions like Racine and Oshkosh.

Top-Paying Metropolitan Areas for RNs
Metropolitan Area Median Salary
Madison $80,820
Milwaukee – Waukesha – West Allis $75,980
La Crosse – Onalaska $74,680
Racine $71,760
Oshkosh – Neenah $71,380
Source: BLS

Best Hospitals to Work as a Nurse in Wisconsin

U.S. News & World Report develops annual hospital rankings based on factors like outcomes, patient experience, staffing ratios (including nurse-to-patient ratios), and expert physician opinions. The following facilities are the top-ranked hospitals for Wisconsin.

  • University of Wisconsin Hospitals

    Also known as UW Health, the Madison-based University of Wisconsin Hospitals system comprises seven hospitals and 77 clinics. The system employs more than 20,000 individuals. Designated as a Magnet Hospital in 2009, UW Health has also gained recognition from the Human Rights Campaign Foundation as a leader in LGBTQ health.
  • Aurora St. Luke’s Medical Center

    Aurora St. Luke’s Medical Center in Milwaukee is one of the few hospitals to receive a Magnet Hospital designation for five consecutive years. The center employs almost 22,000 nurses and includes 16 hospitals and more than 150 clinics.
  • Froedtert Hospital and the Medical College of Wisconsin

    Milwaukee's Froedtert & MCW is a Magnet Hospital with almost 8,000 staff members and operates on the nursing professional practice model of relationship-based care.
  • Aurora Medical Center - Grafton

    This facility is Wisconsin's only green medical center. The facility employs 457 nurses and is located about 20 miles north of Milwaukee. The Human Rights Campaign Foundation has called the medical center a leader in LGBTQ health equality.
  • Bellin Memorial Hospital

    Part of Green Bay's Bellin Health System, Bellin Memorial Hospital is a 167-bed facility. Healthgrades has given the hospital multiple patient experience awards, and Forbes named the facility one of the best employers in 2016 and a best workplace for diversity in 2019.

Resources for Nurses in Wisconsin

  • WNA is the state's largest professional association for nurses. The association provides continuing education opportunities, sponsors advocacy efforts, holds conferences, issues practice statements, and hosts job listings. Membership includes American Nursing Association membership.
  • This organization is affiliated with and provides joint membership in the National Association of School Nurses (NASN). WASN offers continuing education programs, collects and publishes data on school nursing in the state, and hosts an annual conference. Members gain access to exclusive scholarship opportunities.
  • This professional association supports Wisconsin RNs and LPNs who practice independently. Members are either respiratory care service providers for patients who use ventilators, or private duty nursing providers for all other patients. The group provides education and networking opportunities.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I become an RN in Wisconsin?

To meet the Wisconsin nursing license requirements, you must earn an ADN or BSN degree from an approved school, pass the NCLEX-RN, and fill out an application. Applicants may not have a criminal record or record of misconduct that could put patients at risk.

How long does it take to get RN licensure in Wisconsin?

An ADN degree takes two years to complete, while a BSN takes four years. If you hold a recent bachelor degree in another subject or advanced placement credits, you may be able to finish a BSN more quickly through a bridge program. While it is possible to get a Wisconsin nursing license with just an ADN, many employers prefer hiring BSN-holders, especially for higher-level positions.

What states can I work in with a Wisconsin nursing license?

If you have a multistate Wisconsin nursing license, you can practice in any states that participate in the Nursing Licensure Compact. Unlike a regular Wisconsin RN license, the multistate license application process includes a background check with fingerprinting.

How much is a Wisconsin nursing license?

The initial application costs $88 and renewal costs $73. Unlike most other states, Wisconsin does not require continuing professional education for renewal, so it may cost less to maintain a license in Wisconsin. However, many employers require or strongly encourage ongoing professional education.

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