How Does the Compact Nursing License Work?

How Does the Compact Nursing License Work?


Don’t let the complexities of travel nurse licensing stop you from pursuing a career in travel nursing and seeing the country. Although it can seem complicated, we’ll walk you through it and help you discover that it’s really not so bad! So, if you have never been a travel nurse before, you are likely only licensed as a registered nurse in one state. In order to travel, you need a license in each state that you want to practice. Luckily, the Nurse Licensure Compact allows you to practice in multiple states. The Nurse Licensure Compact is constantly growing, with more states joining each year. Currently, 32 states have enacted NLC legislation. You may be wondering, how does the compact nursing license work? Or what do I do if I want to work in a state that isn’t part of the compact license deal? Don’t be overwhelmed! Let’s break down how the compact nursing license works.

How Does The Compact Nursing License Work? Six Things You Need to Know

how does the compact nursing license work1. Some States are Included in the Enhanced Compact Nursing License:

As of April 2020, there are 32 states in the NLC.  Below is a current list of NLC member states: 

  1. Alabama
  2. Arizona
  3. Arkansas
  4. Colorado
  5. Delaware
  6. Florida
  7. Georgia
  8. Idaho
  9. Iowa
  10. Kansas
  11. Kentucky
  12. Louisiana 
  13. Maine
  14. Maryland
  15. Mississippi
  16. Missouri
  17. Montana
  18. Nebraska
  19. New Hampshire
  20. New Mexico
  21. North Carolina
  22. North Dakota
  23. Oklahoma
  24. South Carolina
  25. South Dakota
  26. Tennessee
  27. Texas
  28. Utah
  29. Virginia
  30. West Virginia 
  31. Wisconsin
  32. Wyoming

2. Some States Have Legislation Pending:

Some states have pending legislation and are on the waiting list to be added to the enhanced compact nursing license. Those states are:

  1. Illinois
  2. Indiana (awaiting implementation)
  3. Massachusetts
  4. Michigan
  5. New Jersey (allowing nurses with active, unencumbered compact licenses to practice)
  6. Rhode Island
  7. Vermont
  8. Pennsylvania
  9. Minnesota
  10. California
  11. Alaska
  12. Guam

So, now you’re probably wondering, how do I know if I’m a qualified RN, LPN, or VN? First and foremost, you must currently reside in a compact license state in order to qualify for a compact nursing license. Once you are licensed in a state that participates in the compact license, you can apply to expand your license across state lines. Fees to do this are different depending on what state you live in. There are other requirements you need to meet in order to qualify for a compact nursing license, such as to have graduated from a board-approved education program and passed proper testing. You also need to have a criminal background check conducted by the federal government, among other things listed on the National Council of State Board of Nursing website.

For nurses who currently hold a compact nursing license from an original NLC state, you may be wondering what the eNLC means to you. As long as you obtained you compact nursing license prior to July 20, 2017, you automatically qualify to practice in new NLC states as well. However, nurses holding compact nursing licenses from a state that was not originally an NLC member may need to complete a new compact license application with their State Board of Nursing. These states are Florida, Georgia, Oklahoma, West Virginia, and Wyoming.

3. Nurse Licensure Compact Qualifications

So, now you’re probably wondering, how do I know if I’m qualified to use the compact license? Whether you’re an RN, LPN, or VN, nurses are eligible to apply for a compact nursing license only if they are currently licensed and living in a state that participates in the compact license. If your primary residence is not in a participating state, you can apply for an endorsement to get licensed in each state you want to practice. However, you will need to get a single license in each state and will not be eligible for a compact license unless you change your primary license to a participating state. Fees to do this are different depending on what state you live in.

There are other requirements you need to meet in order to qualify for a compact nursing license. For example, you need to graduate from a board-approved education program and have proper certification. You also need to have a criminal background check conducted by the federal government, among other things listed on the National Council of State Board of Nursing website.

4. Enhanced Nursing Licensure Compact

As of 2018, the Nursing Licensure Compact introduced the Enhanced Nursing Licensure Compact. This updated compact includes standards for licensure that the original compact did not include. One example of these new requirements is a federal fingerprint-based criminal background check. Nurses who had their compact nursing license prior to July 20, 2017 automatically qualify to practice in new eNLC states as well. In order for states to comply with the regulations set forth by the new eNLC, they needed to withdraw from the original NLC. A few states, like Indiana and New Jersey, are in the process of implementing the new eNLC. Some states that were not part of the original NLC simply had to implement the new eNLC, like Florida and Georgia.

5. How Does the Compact Nursing License Work for States Not Included?

How does the compact nursing license work if you want to work in a state that is not included in the compact nursing license? Unfortunately, the answer is that the compact license doesn’t work in states that are not currently participating. For example, if you want to be a travel nurse in Hawaii or Alaska but you live in Maryland, you will have to get a license to practice in those individual states since the compact license isn’t in effect there. You can do this by applying for licensure by endorsement to the board of nursing in whatever state it is that you wish to practice in.

Of course, new states are regularly joining the compact nursing license. Even if your state is not currently considering legislation to introduce the eNLC, they may consider it in the future. While you are limited in where you can practice now, you might have more options later on. 

Attention! Due to COIVD-19, there are changes to compact licensing. Learn more here!

6. When to Apply to the eNLC

If you have been wondering “how does the compact nursing license work,” you are not alone. The Nursing Licensure Compact is very confusing and ever-changing. If you are still confused about how the compact works, there is a handy FAQ page on the NLC’s website. From the website, you can see if you qualify to apply for the compact and the exact steps you need to take to apply.

While it may seem like a pain in the moment, applying to the Nurse Licensure Compact will be very beneficial to your career as a travel nurse. Not only will you be able to travel more easily, but you can transition from contract to contract more efficiently. If, for example, there is a disaster in an eNLC state, you will be able to quickly and easily offer your professional assistance. An interesting facet of the eNLC is that nurses with multi state licenses are able to practice via tele-nursing in all eNLC states!

BONUS VIDEO! How Does the Compact License Work?

Now that you have an updated list of current eNLC states and we’ve answered the question, “how does the compact nursing license work?” you have no excuse not to jumpstart your travel nursing career! Once you get licensed, apply for  travel nursing jobs here.

Author: Lenay Ruhl

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