How Does the Compact Nursing License Work?

If you’re looking to become a travel nurse, chances are you want to take advantage of the travel aspect of the career by experiencing life in different places across the country. Yet, since you never traveled before, you are only licensed as a registered nurse in one state. In order to travel, you need a license in each state that you wish to practice. Luckily, there’s something that allows you to practice in multiple states at once, which is a compact nursing license. The license continues to improve as more and more states join the pack. In fact, the most recent version was implemented on January 19th, 2018. You may be wondering, how does the compact nursing license work and what do I do if I want to work in a state that isn’t part of the compact license deal? Don’t let this overwhelm you! Let’s break it down.

how does the compact nursing license work

States Included in the Enhanced Compact Nursing License:

how does the compact nursing license work


There are currently 29 states in the compact nursing license, and this updated version of the license is effective as of January 2018. Colorado, New Mexico, and Wisconsin were the three states added in this recent revision. While ultimately all three states adopted the compact license, both the Colorado and New Mexico governors only signed the legislation one day before its implementation. The enhanced compact nursing license (eNLC) will allow qualified registered nurses (RNs) and licensed practical/vocational nurses (LPN/VNs) to practice telemedicine or in-person care across lines of the following states:

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

States with 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
  3. Kansas
  4. Massachusetts
  5. Michigan
  6. New Jersey
  7. Rhode Island
  8. Vermont

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.

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

Let me guess… your next question is, 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 in it. For example, if you want to be a travel nurse in Hawaii or Alaska but you live in Maryland, you will have to get licensed 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, continued adoption by other states may encourage legislators to do so. While you might be limited in where you can practice now, that could change in the near future!

What Does the eNLC Mean in My State?

Whether you are from an original compact license state or a state that was added later, you might be wondering how the enhanced version might affect you. While this can vary depending on your primary state of residence, the National Council of State Boards of Nursing has provided helpful resources that can answer some questions.

For nurses from original compact states, the following video may be helpful in the transition to the eNLC.

For nurses from new compact states, this video might answer your questions.

Although understanding things like multi-state licensing and travel nurse taxes can be challenging, the reward of working as a travel nurse is worth it. Not only can you pick from a variety of specialties, such as mental health or flight nursing, but you also get to experience the culture and people in many different cities across the United States. Don’t let the question of how does the compact nursing license work hold you back from pursuing your dreams. Do your research, ask questions, and take your nursing career on the road!

Already licensed? Apply for travel nursing jobs here.

Intern Ryan Whalen contributed to this report.

Author: Lenay Ruhl

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