california board of nursing requirements for foreign graduates

The California Board of Registered Nursing regulates nursing in California. This board manages both Registered professional nurses (RN) and Advanced Practice Nurse (APN) due to the high degrees of education and practice of nursing.

Registered nurses in California have a bright professional future because the state has the highest number of employed nurses and the highest average salary in the U.S.

However, before legally working as a nurse in California, you must acquire a California registered nurse license. This license ensures you’ve reached the proper education, supervised experience, and passed all the exams.

Becoming a Nurse in California

The path to becoming a nurse in any state in the US starts with education. If you want to become an RN, then you’ve to participate in one of these degree programs that take between 2 to 4 years to complete

  • Associate Degree of Nursing (ADN) (2 years of study, mainly in community colleges)
  • Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) (4 years of study in a University)

Although the California Board of Nursing allows both graduates to apply for RN licensure, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing advises aspiring nurses to go for a BSN as it gives more opportunities in the job market and more responsibility and specialization in the workplace. Many nurses later pursue master’s and doctoral degrees in consulting management and education nursing.

The Job Market and Job Search For Nursing In California

Nursing is a growing field in the United States due to the aging population and nurses leaving the job.

In 2007, it was reported that California needed approximately60,000 full-time nurses even after an enormous investment of the state in nursing education in 2005. 

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) states that the fastest-growing jobs for registered nurses will be work in outpatient care facilities, physician offices, and home health care. RNs working in Private industries make as much as $66,650, those in physician offices make about $62,880, while others make less than $58,000.

Since RNs are in high demand due to their skills, the job search for new nurses isn’t hectic. Because of these, even part-time RN jobs come with many benefits,s as free tuition fees for continued education, insurance, and childcare.

Eligibility For Licensing

The California Board of Nursing

The California BRN is a state board that regulates the nursing profession in California. They protect the health and safety of patients by ensuring only high-quality nurses are given licensure. The board is also in charge of investigating complaints and taking disciplinary action when necessary.

Also, the board supports nursing who have suffered from substance abuse or mental illness. It’s also their responsibility to provide the resources for new and out-of-state nurses to become licensed in California by examination or endorsement. The BRN also provides a pathway for nurses to renew their licenses to continue practicing.

Steps to Licensing

Internationally educated nurses (IENs) are expected to meet specific requirements to receive a license by examination as Registered nurses in California. The requirements are:

1. Compile Transcripts, Translation, and Fingerprints

► Transcripts: The first thing the California Board of Nursing will do is to evaluate your foreign transcript and nursing license. The application for RN licensing by exams requires you to use forms to get your transcripts sent directly from your foreign university to the California Board of Nursing. 

Sending these forms early will ensure your licensing process doesn’t take long. Getting your foreign transcripts can take a lot of time, slowing your application process, especially if your school has never had anyone apply for a California license. The BRN must only accept transcripts sent directly by your school to them. 

► Translations: This stage is only for those that studied in countries where English isn’t the official language, thereby having the documents in another language. You must arrange for an official translation if you’re in this category. 

There are a few ways to do this; If your country has English as one of its official languages, you can arrange with your college to translate your transcripts into English and provide it with the ones written in the other language. 

If not, you can hire a professional translator (who must be someone unrelated to you) to translate your transcripts. The translator needs to fill out a unique form. The California BRN recommends you get a translator that’s a member of the American Translator Association or a certified court interpreter.

 Fingerprints: The BRN requires your fingerprints to be checked by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Department of Justice if you’ve any criminal record.  Ensure you take your fingerprints early, as processing time may vary and can slow down your licensing.  

There are two ways you can have your fingerprints taken – livescan fingerprint or paper cards fingerprint. You should go for the live scan fingerprinting as it takes a shorter time to process.

However, it requires you to go to an approved California fingerprinting center. Live scan costs between $20-50, depending on the location. Make sure you keep your live scan receipt, as you’ll be asked to present it later. 

However, if you can’t go to a California livescan site, you can email the commission and request paper fingerprint cards. However, you should know that paper fingerprints take a long to process. 

2. Apply for a Registered Nurse Licensure By Exams And an Interim License Application

When your transcripts and fingerprints are ready, the next thing is to apply for the RN licensure by exams. To use, you need:

  • A 2-page license by examination application
  • A completed livescan or paper fingerprint
  • A 2″ × 2″ passport photography
  • A copy of your foreign nursing license and a specialization certificate in any of the nursing fields (if you don’t have one, you’ll have to explain why)
  • Certified translation of your documents 
  • Provide a score on your Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) if you’re applying for an interim license and attended a none English speaking Nursing college
  • Pay $150 for an RN license application or $200 if you’re applying for a temporary license. 

At this stage, we expect that you’ve already sent your ‘Request for Transcript’ and your “Breakdown of Educational Program for International Nursing Programs” form to the university you studied at and had a translation of your documents ready if they’re not in English.

Your application is completed once your university or college sends your transcript to the California Board of Nursing.

Once BRN receives your application, they’ll evaluate your licensing and education to see if it’s comparable to the minimum standards of the California Registered Nurse program. Their standard includes coursework and experience in:

  • Microbiology
  • Anatomy and Physiology
  • Surgical Nursing
  • Medical Nursing
  • Obstetric Nursing
  • Psychiatric Nursing
  • Paediatric Nursing

If you don’t have complete coursework, you’ll have to take the missing courses before qualifying for an Interim license or an NCLEX. This is especially common for candidates from countries with different nursing practice standards. For example, in some nations, males aren’t taught obstetric nursing.

Once your application meets the California RN standards in both education and experience, the board will:

  • Send an NCLEX candidate Bulletin with instructions on registering and writing the exams.
  • Provide a temporary license for six months or until you get your first NCLEX results.

If you pass the NCLEX exams, BRN will process your license. However, if you fail it, your temporary permit will be stopped, and you won’t be able to work as a nurse in California until you pass the exams.

3. Pass the National Council Licensure Exams (NCLEX)

You’ll not register for the National Council Licensure Exams (NCLEX) until the board sends you an  Authorization to Test (ATT) notification which shows that your licensure by examination application has been approved. At that time, BRN will also provide you with the information you need about NCLEX and how to find a testing administration site.  You must have an ATT to schedule an appointment and be allowed into an exam center on the date of your exams. 

As of the time of compiling this guide, The NCLEX costs $200. Your scores on the exam will be available to California BRN within a month after taking the test. If you’ve passed, the board will process your licensure in no time. 

The National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses

The NCLEX-RN is the only examination required for California licensure by the examination process. 

The exams are a computer-based variable length adaptive test. This means the system automatically adjusts the difficulty level, number of questions, and content based on your answers. 

The test will continue until the system is 95% sure your abilities are above or below the passing standards due to your answers. As a result,  you’ll be required to answer 75 to 265 questions. Test takers with the highest or lowest abilities usually answer the fewest questions. 

The exams are primarily multi-choice questions, though other formats can be included. A short tutorial will be given to you to expose you to the types of questions being asked, and you’re not allowed to skip any questions or make random guesses. 

Also, you should not bring any reference material, calculator, or test aid material into the exam hall. If a question requires calculation, a screen calculator will be provided to you. 

Content Areas of the NCLEX

 Most of the content of NCLEX concentrates on the patient as the focus of care. The test is usually divided into four categories and subcategories of patients’ needs. You’ll also answer an approximate percentage of questions in each category. Here’s a breakdown of the classes and the rates: 

1. Safe and Effective Care Environment

  • Coordinated Care (13-19%)
  • Safety and Infection Control (11-17%)

2. Health Promotion and Maintenance 7-13%

3. Psychosocial Integrity 7-13%

4. Physiological Integrity

  • Basic Care and Comfort (9-15%)
  • Pharmacological Therapies (11-17%)
  • Reduction of Risk Potential (9-15%)
  • Physiological Adaptation (9-15%)

Scheduling for the NCLEX-RN

The NCLEX is carried out in various testing centers across the U.S and internationally.  You can only schedule the test when your application for Licensure by Examination has been approved, and you’ve received an Authorization to Test (ATT) notice. This notice will provide all you need to know about choosing a test center and scheduling a date to take the exams. Note that your ATT is valid for only 90 days. Therefore, you shouldn’t delay booking a session.

On the day of the test, you must bring your ATT and government-issued photo ids such as a passport or driving license.

Your fingerprints will be taken digitally before you enter the exam hall and retaken when you re-enter the arena after breaks. You should arrive an hour before your exams; you’ll not be allowed to join if you arrive an hour late after your scheduled time.

The exams take up to 6 hours, including the time for tutorials and optional breaks.

What If I Fail the NCLEX RN?

If you fail the NCLEX, you’ll still have a chance to secure a license in California. The board will send you a Candidate Performance Report showing the areas you need to improve. You’re to use that report and study your weak areas before retaking the exams.

You’ll be qualified to retake the exams after 90 days. However, if your score is meager, you should consider taking refresher courses before retaking the exams.

Many resources online can help you prepare for your NCLEX; some are paid, while others are free. Consider investing in paid test preparation classes to save yourself from the stress of paying to retake the NCLEX and make yourself more attractive in the job market.

California License Verification – Endorsement by Another State

To qualify for endorsement into the California nursing profession, you must hold a current and active RN license in another U.S state or Canada. 

The applicant must also complete their educational program that meets the California requirements and pass the NCLEX-RN or the State Board Test Pool Examination (SBTPE). It’s good you know that the Canadian Comprehensive exams are not accepted. 

If you’re applying for a license via endorsement in California and you’ve not passed the RN exams in any state, you’ll not be issued a permit even if your state doesn’t require an exam. 

California Licensure by Endorsement Application

The California board of registered nurses recommends applicants apply for licensing online. However, if you’ve already submitted a paper application, there’s no need to reapply online. 

Check here for the application instructions. Here’s a step-by-step guide:

  • Sign up for a BreEZe account if you don’t have one.
  • On the home page, click on ‘RN endorsement’ on the drop-down menu below. Start a new application.
  • Apply and upload the required documents. Applicants are advised to attach as much information as possible to reduce paperwork and speed up the review of their application.
  • Pay your application fees with a valid credit card.

You’re also required to provide the following:

  • Either a live scan fingerprint or a hard copy fingerprint. Check here for information about fingerprinting. 
  • A completed “verification of license form” or a Nursys verification application for boards participating in Nursys. However, you should know that nurse verifications expire within 90 days. Therefore, you shouldn’t request one until you’re ready to submit your endorsement application. Else, it will pass before your file is thoroughly reviewed.
  • If there are any documents of disciplinary or convictions attesting to your rehabilitation
  • Apply for a temporary license, if you wish, before your permanent license is issued. 
  • If you’re an international student, you’ll be required to send a Breakdown of Educational Program for International Nursing Programs” to your college with the “Request for Transcript” form. If your transcript isn’t in English, you must translate them.

Renewing Your Nursing License in California

Registered nurses must renew their licenses and complete additional requirements every two years to continue practicing. When renewing, you’ll be required to pay a fee of $10 to the RN education fund. Here are the requirements for licensing renewal in California:

  • ►Continuing Education: Registered nurses must complete at least 30 hours of continuing education before each renewal except within their first two years of practice. The education provider has to be approved by the California Board of Registered nursing.
  • ►Fingerprints: Applicants are also required to submit their livescan fingerprint to the Department of Justice and FBI for criminal checks.
  • ►Convictions/Discipline: During renewal, applicants must disclose whether they’ve been disciplined or were convicted of any crime. 

The cost of license renewal depends on your area of specialization. RNs pay a renewal fee of $190. Specialization renewal fees can cost up to $170, and when paid late, delinquent fees can reach up to $1725.

The Board of Registered Nursing (BRN) is the regulatory and licensing agency for registered nurses in California. The BRN ensures that all registered nurses meet the minimum standards for safe nursing care.

A graduate from a foreign nursing school who wants to work as a nurse in California must meet the following requirements:

  • Graduates from foreign nursing schools can only apply for licensure if they have completed an American equivalency degree program or passed the NCLEX-RN exam.
  • Foreign graduates must take and pass the NCLEX-RN exam, administered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN).

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