Whether you're an Alabama resident drawn to a nursing career or a prospective out-of-state student attracted to the profession's fast job growth, Alabama stands out as a great place to start your nursing career. An aging national population and statewide healthcare boom have led to a high local demand for nurses. If you want an exciting, satisfying career helping others and saving lives, nursing might be the job for you, and Alabama could be the place to find it. Boasting world-class healthcare facilities such as the University of Alabama hospital system and numerous university-backed medical research centers, the state is quickly building a reputation as one of the country's best places to study and seek medical care.
If you'd like to start a career in the nursing field but can't afford to leave your current job or if you worry about the cost of a four-year degree, keep reading. Earning an online nursing degree can be an easy, affordable way to pursue a career in this high-demand field. Use this guide to learn how to land the nursing job of your choice through distance learning programs.
How to Become a Nurse in Alabama
While nurses around the country study similar subjects whether they take traditional on-campus courses or attend nursing school online, Alabama nurses must meet state licensure standards. The cost and procedure for becoming licensed depend on the type of online nursing degree you receive. Here's a look at how to become a nurse in Alabama.
1. Choose the Path That's Right for You
First, define your career goals. What kind of nurse do you want to be and what type of facility do you find appealing? While you can become an RN with only an associate degree, earning a BSN can ultimately lead to greater responsibilities and a higher salary. A competitive job market has led to the increasing popularity of online RN-to-BSN programs in Alabama; however, most advanced practice nurses, such as nurse anesthetists or practitioners, must complete a master's degree or a DNP.
2. Earn Your Nursing Degree
Is an online nursing degree right for you? Alabama boasts many accelerated nursing programs that allow students to earn a degree in as little as a year using convenient online delivery; however, online degrees aren't for everyone. Some students benefit from the structure of traditional, on-campus programs. Additionally, many online nursing schools in Alabama require students to complete clinicals or internships at a nearby hospital, and some online MSN programs in Alabama maintain extensive prerequisite course requirements. Nonetheless, many students prefer to earn their degree online.
3. Pass the Licensing Exam and Earn Your License
Most nursing schools in Alabama don't offer licensing exams as part of an online nursing degree. Yet, the knowledge you gain from the program's coursework helps prepare you for your exam. Graduates of both traditional and online nursing schools in Alabama must complete an RN or LPN certification exam, while RNs must also pass the NCLEX exam, which they can prepare for using online study materials. After paying a $200 fee, prospective RNs must complete the NCLEX in six hours or less. Licensure doesn't guarantee a nursing job, but it allows students to pursue one.
Nursing Licensure in Alabama
Students at all nursing schools in Alabama must be licensed before practicing, regardless of their educational level. Registered nurses and graduates of online RN-to-BSN programs in Alabama must also complete the NCLEX-RN exam. Both LPNs and RNs can apply for licensure through the Alabama Board of Nursing. After successfully completing the exam, first-time applicants receive a temporary permit that allows them to apply for nursing positions while they wait for their official license, which remains valid for two years. If a nurse's license lapses or the nurse wishes to move to another state, the individual must apply for licensure by school or professional endorsement.
Offered through the Pearson Vue website, the NCLEX-RN exam tests critical thinking and analytical skills across four categories and eight subcategories that include safety and infection control; risk reduction; and pharmacology. The NCLEX-RN exam takes up to six hours to complete and requires several state fees. The table below reveals the approximate costs of applying for the NCLEX-RN in Alabama.
State Requirements by Nursing Type
The Alabama Board of Nursing provides two pathways to obtain an RN license. For the first option, candidates must complete a nursing program that reflects Alabama's nursing standards and take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX)-RN. The NCLEX costs $200 for registration, with additional fees for changing information. For instance, a person who chose the RN exam but needed the PN option would pay $50 to correct this error. Students may take six hours to finish the NCLEX-RN. Alabama test-takers can view their unofficial test results within two days after the exam and receive official results in roughly six weeks.
Out-of-state applicants with a nursing license may apply for an RN license by endorsement with 24 continuing education (CE) hours in the last two years. All applicants must possess a social security number and hold status as a U.S. citizen or legal resident. Candidates pay a $100 application fee, with an additional $3.50 transaction fee, to apply for licensure by exam or endorsement.
In Alabama, candidates renew RN licenses in even years, with August 31 as the cut-off date. For example, RNs must renew their license in 2018 if that RN earned the license before August 31 of the same year. Renewal costs $103.50, including a transaction fee, and requires 24 CE hours.
Candidates may reinstate lapsed or revoked licenses by applying with CE hours and the required fee, which costs $75-$750.
Alabama candidates for the certified nursing assistant (CNA) certification must participate in a nurse aide training and competency evaluation program that boasts state recognition. To earn this recognition, programs must require a minimum of 75 hours, including 16 clinical hours and 16 lab hours.
Program curriculum must cover long-term care assistance, basic nursing skills, personal care skills, mental health and social services, care of cognitively impaired residents, basic restorative services, and resident rights. These program categories equip CNA candidates to perform general nursing activities, such as communicating with patients, maintaining healthy environments, performing well in emergencies, and checking vital signs.
Only coordinators and instructors who meet certain criteria, such as prior teaching experience, can oversee training. For this reason, candidates must provide curriculum information in their application packets, including the site of clinical experience, instructors' names, and textbook details.
Candidates must pass an Alabama certification examination to earn the CNA credential. Applicants who fail the exam three times may need to return to a training program before re-attempting the exam.
CNA candidates must remain current on their immunizations. They should also undergo a tuberculosis test and the Hepatitis B vaccine series.
The certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA) credential requires candidates to hold a current RN license in Alabama. Out-of-state applicants may not earn this certification by endorsement. Applicants must hold at least a master's degree in a field related to anesthesia practice, and their schools must provide the Alabama Board of Nursing with official transcripts.
This credential requires CRNA certification through the National Board of Certification and Recertification for Nurse Anesthetists (NBCRNA). For the NBCRNA certification, candidates must take the national certification examination (NCE), which costs $995. The NCE, delivered by computer, includes 100-170 questions of varying structures, such as multiple choice; drag and drop; and calculation problems. Candidates must finish the exam in three hours and should take the NCE within two years of graduating from an anesthesia program. The NBCRNA must send proof of this certification to the Alabama Board of Nursing.
The NBCRNA also provides a voluntary self-assessment for $250 that helps candidates get ready for the official exam.
Unlike other advanced practice nursing certifications in Alabama, the CRNA option does not require a collaborative experience with a physician. However, candidates must submit an application and the $175 fee.
The CRNA credential lapses when the candidate's national certification or RN license lapses. A CRNA whose certification lapses must submit an application for reinstatement, $150 in fees, and also complete six pharmacology-related CE hours.
The CRNA certification allows recipients to open their own practices, but each CRNA must work under a readily available physician or dentist.
Other types of nursing certifications in Alabama include licensed practical nurse (LPN), clinical nurse specialist (CNS), certified nurse-midwife (CNM), and certified registered nurse practitioner (CRNP) options.
CRNP candidates must hold a current RN license, so by extension, they must pass an NCLEX exam. Applicants also need at least a master's in nursing practitioner concepts and a specialty certification from a nationally recognized agency, such as gerontological, family, or pediatric credentials.
CRNP applicants must obtain 4,000 hours of collaborative experience with a physician, which may include pre-application hours. However, candidates exploring a new specialty must complete 4,000 hours in that new field. For instance, an applicant may not count pediatric experience for a new collaboration with a gerontology specialist.
Applicants must submit standard protocol documents for collaborations through area-specific forms that include acute care, family practice, neonatal, and women's healthcare. These documents provide a list of procedures CRNP candidates can perform. Applicants must also provide quality assurance plans. The physician must deliver the commencement for collaborative practice form, along with the required fee, to the Board of Medical Examiners before the Alabama Board of Nursing offers approval.
Candidates must submit an application and a $175 fee for this certification.
To renew the CRNP certification, practitioners must complete 24 CE hours, with six pharmacology-focused hours. The Alabama Board of Nursing recommends a free CE opportunity in opioid use disorder through Harvard Medical School, but does not require that practitioners follow this path.
Career Outlook for Nurses in Alabama
Alabama currently has more than 47,400 registered nurses, but the state needs more professionals to meet demand. As the healthcare industry becomes a major force in the state's economy, the demand for registered nurses has skyrocketed. The BLS projects that the job growth rate for registered nurses will increase by 15% from 2016-2026, greatly outpacing the national average. With the state's numerous hospital systems and medical centers, nurses who complete RN programs in Alabama have their choice of employment options. While at first glance, the wages listed in the table below might seem low compared to national averages, individuals should consider the state's relatively low cost of living.
Employment Data for RNs in Alabama
RNs earn, on average, $73,550 per year; however, field salaries fluctuate significantly. The highest paid 10% of RNs earn $104,100 per year, while the lowest paid 10% earn $48,690. Factors that cause these variations include the RN's industry. Specifically, the pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing industry pays the most, with nurses averaging $90,510 per year and $43.51 per hour. Candidates can also earn high wages in industries such as accounting, tax preparation, bookkeeping, and payroll services; the federal executive branch; business schools and computer and management training; wholesale electronic markets; and agents and brokers.
Location also impacts pay. In particular, the BLS reports that California, Hawaii, the District of Columbia, Massachusetts, and Oregon offer the highest salaries.
In Alabama, RNs earn an average of $57,890 per year. This annual salary exists below the national average, but surpasses average earnings for other medical professions within the state. For instance, Alabama RNs typically earn more per year than dental hygienists; cardiovascular technologists and technicians; emergency medical technicians and paramedics; respiratory therapists; and diagnostic medical sonographers. This information represents Alabama as a whole rather than individual areas.
Employment Data for CNAs in Alabama
The BLS reports that nursing assistants earn an average salary of $28,540, with average by-hour pay at $13.72. The highest paid 10% of nursing assistants earn, on average, $38,630 per year, and the lowest 10% earn $20,680. Candidates working for the federal executive branch obtain the highest average field pay, with nursing assistants who work in facilities support services; scientific research and development services; educational support services; and colleges, universities, and professional schools also earning significant wages. The median salaries for continuing care retirement communities, hospitals, and home healthcare services also provide examples of the field's high-paying industries.
Alaska, New York, Nevada, the District of Columbia, and California supply nursing assistants with higher pay than other states.
Nursing assistants in Alabama earn an average of $23,050. This number exists below the national average. However, Alabama CNAs can earn more, on average, than the state's home health aides and pharmacy aides.
The BLS projects an 11% increase in employment for nursing assistants by 2026, which amounts to more than 1.6 million positions. This number indicates that candidates who are pursuing a CNA certification will likely find field employment in the coming years.
Employment Data for NPs in Alabama
On average, NPs earn $107,480 per year and $51.68 per hour, according to the BLS. The highest paid 10% of NPs earn $145,630 on average per year, and the lowest 10% average $74,840. Candidates in personal care services obtain the highest pay by industry ($139,460), with consulting services, religious organizations, dentists' offices, and office settings also providing high average salaries. Outpatient care services, hospitals, and doctors' offices offer high median pay as well, with each median salary surpassing $100,000.
California, Alaska, Hawaii, Massachusetts, and Connecticut provide NPs with higher average salaries than other states. Alabama offers an average salary of $94,880 for NPs. Though below the national average, this pay surpasses average state wages for many healthcare professions. Specifically, Alabama NPs earn more, on average, than the state's occupational therapists, surgical technologists, hearing aid specialists, and pharmacy technicians.
The BLS projects that NP positions will increase by 36% by 2026. This high number indicates that earning a related certification will likely lead to field employment in the future.
Biggest Hospitals in Alabama
Living near a large hospital offers many benefits for recent grads and those earning an online nursing degree. Most online nursing programs in Alabama require a period of residency or experiential learning, and large hospitals often boast well-structured teaching programs. They're also more likely to offer internship or fellowship programs, and tend to have more job openings. It's worth checking out what these large hospitals have to offer:
- University of Alabama Hospital: Founded in 1945, this Birmingham facility holds 1,157 beds, more than any other hospital in the state. With 18,750 employees, the hospital also rises as one of the largest employers in both the Birmingham-Hoover metropolitan area and Alabama. UAB Hospital remains world-renowned for its seven specialty programs.
- Huntsville Hospital: Known for its state-of-the-art orthopedic and heart centers, Huntsville Hospital employs roughly 10,000 individuals. Used by the University of Alabama Birmingham School of Medicine for clinical rotations, the facility also acts as a teaching hospital for local family practice, pharmacy, and nursing students from various Alabama institutions.
Additional Nursing Resources in Alabama
- Alabama Nursing Resource Center: An online resource for information on licensure, employment options, professional protocols, and nursing schools in Alabama, this site provides helpful up-to-date information for in-state nurses. Students can explore the site's graduate scholarships and its extensive list of continuing education programs.
- Alabama State Nurses Association: This professional organization for Alabama registered nurses remains committed to advocacy, community, and education. In addition to members-only job boards, networking opportunities, and online continuing education programs, the organization holds multiple seminars, conferences, and leadership summits each year. Other benefits include webinars, certification discounts, and a monthly journal subscription.
- Alabama Association of School Nurses: The AASN exists as a professional organization dedicated to the promotion of nurses and nursing in schools in Alabama. The group offers conferences, continuing education courses, and workshops, as well as hands-on resources for use in the workplace.
- Alabama Emergency Nurses Association: Emergency nurses can explore the state-specific resources available on this site, while members may participate in regular meetings, conferences, and other events sponsored by this highly active professional organization. The group stands out as a great resource for those wanting to learn more about nursing colleges in Alabama that offer advanced practice programs.
Accredited Online Nursing Programs in Alabama