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Nursing In Wisconsin: Requirements, Licensing, and Salary Outlook

NurseJournal Staff
Updated September 27, 2023
    Learn about Wisconsin RN license requirements and how to get or renew a Wisconsin nursing license.
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    Are you ready to earn your online nursing degree?

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    Degree Required

    Degree RequiredADN or BSN

    License Required

    License RequiredRegistered Nurse License


    FeesLicense: $88
    Renewal: $73

    Job Outlook

    Job Outlook7.8% growth from 2018-28

    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.

    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.

    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 AreaMedian Salary
    Milwaukee – Waukesha – West Allis$75,980
    La Crosse – Onalaska$74,680
    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.

    • 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 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.
    • Milwaukees Froedtert & MCW is a Magnet Hospital with almost 8,000 staff members and operates on the nursing professional practice model of relationship-based care.
    • This facility is Wisconsins 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.
    • Part of Green Bays 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

    • Wisconsin Nurses Association

      WNA is the states 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.
    • Wisconsin Association of School Nurses

      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.
    • Wisconsin Professional Homecare Providers

      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.

    Top Nursing Programs in Wisconsin

    Are you ready to earn your online nursing degree?

    Whether you’re looking to get your pre-licensure degree or taking the next step in your career, the education you need could be more affordable than you think. Find the right nursing program for you.