When you're traveling beyond your state borders to work, make sure you're up-to-date on this important issue.


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How many nursing licenses do you need if you live in Arizona but work in New Mexico or travel to assignments in Texas? Thanks to the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN), the answer is one. That's because those states all have implemented the interstate compact, which means they recognize the licenses of nurses in the other states. Here's a brief overview.




Q. How does the interstate compact work?


A. It works much like a driver's license. A nurse who's licensed in, say, Utah could practice in any state that has passed the compact without getting a new license there.



Q. What states have passed the interstate compact?


A. So far, 18 states have entered the nurse licensure compact: Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, and Wisconsin. In addition, New Jersey and New Hampshire have enacted but not yet implemented the compact.



Q. Under the compact, do I need more than one license to practice outside of my home state?


A. If both the state where you live and the state where you practice have passed the interstate compact, you'll need a license only from your home state. If the state where you practice hasn't passed the compact, you'll need a license from that state too.



Q. Does the interstate compact apply to LPNs/LVNs?


A. Yes.



Q. Does the interstate compact apply to advanced practice nurses (APNs)?


A. Not at this time, but an NCSBN task force continues to examine how it could include APNs.



Q. Where can I find out more?


A. Visit the NCSBN's Web site at http://www.ncsbn.org for a map indicating which states have enacted the compact.


Adapted and updated from "What's the state of interstate licensure?" Nursing2004 CareerDirectory, 2004.


When your license doesn't travel


If you're a traveling nurse who lives or works in a state that hasn't adopted the nurse licensure compact, you'll need to contact nursing boards yourself. Use this nuts-and-bolts advice to smooth the potential rough spots in the licensing road.


* Find out if the state you'll be traveling to provides a temporary license or if you must wait for a permanent one (which may take up to 3 months). Most states will issue a temporary license with proper documentation from your original licensing state, but time frames vary. It can take as little as 1 day in states that let you hand-carry paperwork to the board of nursing office and get a temporary license to practice right away. But it may take as long as 8 weeks. Once you have it, you'll be able to practice for 30 to 120 days, depending on the state. (Good tip: Consider applying for both licenses at one time; the temporary one will come through quicker, but the permanent one gives you time to extend your assignment or take another assignment in the same state.) Don't rely on your travel nurse agency to tell you everything, even though it might. Check out the other state's nursing board yourself online and watch for such requirements as fingerprints.


* Because the board is likely to require your official transcript be sent directly from your nursing school (rather than from you), contact your school to find out what the process is, what fees are involved, and how long it takes after you request that they send it.


* Ask some questions about license renewal and mandated continuing-education (CE) requirements. You may need a minimum number of clinical practice hours to renew a license (and this may be in lieu of-or in addition to-mandatory CE). Find out the renewal deadline, costs, license expiration date, CE credit accrual deadline, and time frame for renewals to be issued. Ask what the state requires in terms of CE contact hours, how you're to obtain them, and what confirmation you need to provide after you do. You also might have to take state-administered classes on AIDS awareness, child abuse detection, or other programs.


* Keep copies of everything you mail to the licensing board. Always confirm exactly what you're supposed to send and whether anything needs to be notarized.


* Keep a valid permanent address on file with each state where you're licensed.



Although these bureaucratic technicalities may sound daunting, contend with a little red tape for now-and consider the benefits interstate licensure offers.


Adapted and updated from "Guide to Licensing," J. Penny; formerly available at http://www.springnet.com.