As Alaska's economy grows, so does the need for healthcare professionals -- especially nurses. Several recent changes in the national healthcare landscape, including an aging population, health insurance program restructuring, and Medicaid eligibility expansion, have led to a shortage of qualified nurses across the country and strongly impacted Alaska's job market. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that employment opportunities for registered nurses (RNs) will grow 15% between 2016 and 2026, more than double the national average.
Due to a particularly high demand for healthcare professionals, Alaska ranks among the five top-paying states for RNs. According to data from the BLS, Alaskan RNs earn a mean wage of over $42 per hour -- one of the highest wages for nurses in the nation. The state's shortage of skilled RNs also translates into plentiful employment opportunities for nurses in Alaska. While large hospitals and medical centers in urban areas like Anchorage and Juneau are known for offering generous wages, nurses who work with underserved populations in rural communities are also well-compensated. The nursing industry holds many rewarding career opportunities for those willing to pursue the necessary education and licensure.
How to Become a Nurse in Alaska
Alaska's nursing licensure regulations are similar to those in other states. To earn a license, RNs must hold either an associate degree or a bachelor's degree and pass the National Council Licensure Examination, or NCLEX-RN. Candidates pay an exam fee through the Alaska Board of Nursing and can apply for licensure. Those who wish to become advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) can apply for licensure in one of four nursing specializations: nurse practitioner, nurse midwife, clinical nurse specialist, or certified registered nurse anesthetist. Once licensed and employed, nurses must regularly complete continuing education coursework through a state board-recognized national certification organization.
1. Choose the Path That's Right for You
Many candidates secure an entry-level nursing job by completing a year-long licensed practical nurse (LPN) program. LPN programs do not require a college degree, and graduates qualify to take on lower-level nursing positions under the direction of an RN or physician. In contrast, the two-year associate degree in nursing (ADN) prepares graduates for either entry-level employment or to transfer a bachelor's program. Both associate and bachelor's degree holders may take the NCLEX-RN exam for RNs. A bachelor's degree in nursing (BSN) generally requires four years of study and features more challenging coursework than an ADN curriculum. Some RNs with ADNs who wish to pursue a BSN enroll in two-year bridge programs. More specialized training requires a master's in nursing (MSN) and provides a pathway to additional job opportunities and higher salaries. Finally, many professionals interested in college-level teaching positions choose to earn a doctor of nursing practice degree.
2. Earn Your Nursing Degree
Most nursing schools in Alaska offer several different ways to earn a degree, including on-campus programs, web-based programs, and hybrid blends of the two. Online nursing degrees provide a convenient option for working adults who want to enhance their job prospects through advanced training, or individuals who cannot commute to a local college or university. The most common online programs are RN-to-BSN and RN-to-MSN bridge programs. While admission prerequisites differ by school and degree type, most programs include a clinical practice requirement or internship component. Students considering an online degree should ensure that they can fulfill any practicum requirements at a nearby medical facility. Most nursing students spend anywhere from one to five years completing their degree, depending on the program type and whether the school offers it online, through blended or hybrid courses, or on campus.
3. Pass the Licensing Exam and Earn Your License
Many nursing programs cover the topics and skills addressed on state licensing exams. Most nursing schools in Alaska introduce students to exam content areas, building their test-taking skills and confidence. For example, many bachelor's programs include the ATI and HESI exams in their graduation requirements. Candidates who do well on these exams tend to score higher on the NCLEX-RN exam, and many choose to enroll in NCLEX review courses offered through test preparation services. Though required to obtain state licensure, passing NCLEX scores do not guarantee employment. Even before you graduate and start interviewing, you should start building your professional network, acquire hands-on experience through clinical practice and internships, and take advantage of your school's career counseling office.
Nursing Licensure in Alaska
The Alaska Board of Nursing is the best source for information on LPN and RN licensing requirements and fees. LPNs must pass the NCLEX-PN exam, and RNs must pass the NCLEX-RN exam. Both associate and bachelor's nursing degrees qualify candidates to sit for the NCLEX-RN test and obtain the necessary licensure to work in the state of Alaska. Before you apply for state licensure, you must meet the NCLEX eligibility requirements established by the Alaska Board of Nursing. You must also register to take the exam through the Pearson VUE testing company and pay a $200 examination fee. Other application fees are detailed in the table below.
To help students prepare for the NCLEX exams, many nursing programs in Alaska include the ATI and HESI exams in their curricula. Students who complete these preparatory exams tend to receive higher scores on the NCLEX. However, Alaska is not a member of the Nurse Licensure Compact, which recognizes nursing licenses between member states without requiring further examination. If you hold a nursing license from another state, you must fulfill additional licensing requirements to work as a nurse in Alaska. If your Alaskan nursing license is in good standing, you may practice in another state by applying for licensure by endorsement through that state's nursing board.
Nursing Licensing Costs in Alaska
App Fee $100
Licensing Fee $200
Permit Fee $100
Fingerprint Processing Fee $75
State Requirements By Nursing Type
In Alaska, students can become an RN if they hold an associate or a bachelor's degree from an approved nursing program. The University of Alaska Anchorage offers the state's only nursing program, but maintains fifteen outreach centers in various cities. After completing their nursing degree, learners must pass the NCLEX-RN to apply for licensure.
Learners who successfully complete the NCLEX-RN may become an RN in Alaska either through an examination process or by way of endorsement. Candidates who submit a notarized examination application must also provide their fingerprints, official transcripts, and a nursing program verification form. The exam and accompanying fees total $375, with an additional $100 charge for a temporary nursing permit.
Applicants who wish to become an RN by endorsement must submit an application, fingerprint cards, nursing program verification forms, and proof of completing at least 320 professional hours in a nursing role. An application by endorsement costs $375 for a full permit, with an additional $100 charge for a temporary state permit. Out-of-state or international applicants must demonstrate comparable credentials and proof of nursing competencies.
To renew an RN license in Alaska, nurses must submit proof of professional fitness, including information about any incidents or credential changes by the end of November in an even-numbered renewal year. Nurses must also supply documentation and supporting evidence of any refresher courses, clinical hours, and other applicable activities completed prior to renewal, as well as information regarding any relevant disciplinary action.
Nurses who wish to become certified nursing assistants (CNAs) in Alaska can also undergo an examination process or apply for endorsement. Both options require applicants to complete at least one year of educational nursing training in clinical and classroom settings, or at least 140 training hours. The examination application must include fingerprints, nursing program verification, and a $330 fee. International and out-of-state applicants should supply comparable information regarding their education and training. Applicants must receive approval from the board before they can sit for the CNA examination.
Individuals applying for CNA licensure through endorsement must provide proof of completing at least 140 training hours and a certified nursing program. They must also pass a competency exam and demonstrate sufficient English language proficiency. Candidates should submit their fingerprints and a $330 fee along with their application.
CNAs must renew their credentials every two years. While a biennial renewal costs $100, CNAs certified after April 1, 2017 only need to pay a prorated $50 fee. The renewal cycle runs from February to March, with applications due in even-ending years. CNAs must demonstrate current employment in a nursing assistant position and the completion of the necessary contact hours and at least 12 hours of continuing education. CNAs must also prove their professional fitness and legal compliance. Nurses who do not meet the continuing education and contact hour requirements may renew their licenses by retaking an exam comparable to the initial CNA exam.
LPNs in Alaska can apply for licensure if they hold an associate or bachelor's degree in nursing from an approved program and receive a passing score on the NCLEX-PN exam. To receive a temporary or permanent nursing license in Alaska, candidates must undergo either the examination or endorsement process.
LPN applicants may take the NCLEX-PN at any point during the application process. Once applicants pass the exam, the state processes their formal application, fingerprints, transcripts, and nursing program verification form. Fees for the application total $375, or $475 if including a temporary permit.
To apply through endorsement, LPN applicants must provide proof of nursing training, any applicable licensure and certifications, and employment history. Fees for fingerprints, application, and licensure total $375, or $475 if also including a temporary permit.
The renewal cycle for LPNs in Alaska ends on the last day of September in even-numbered years. LPNs who do not meet this deadline must apply for reinstatement. Renewal application materials include proof of employment, continuing education requirements, and any relevant disciplinary and personal information. International and out-of-state applicants must supply additional information regarding their educational and employment histories.
Retired nurses cannot volunteer or work as a nurse in Alaska without state licensure. Retired nurses who wish to practice again must apply for reinstatement by submitting a notarized application.
Advanced practice registered nurse (APRNs) in Alaska can pursue specialized positions as midwives, clinical nurse specialists, nurse practitioners (NPs), or certified registered nurse anesthetists. To become an APRN in Alaska, nurses must hold a master's degree in nursing or a requisite number of graduate credit hours. APRNs must also hold an Alaska RN license. While all APRNs must hold a master's degree in nursing, degree and course requirements vary according to specialty.
APRN license applications must include proof of completed coursework in advanced pathophysiology, advanced pharmacotherapeutics, and advanced physical assessment. Prospective APRNs must also provide professional references, a consultation and referral plan, and proof of relevant prescriptive authority. International and out-of-state applicants should submit documentation that they have met comparable requirements. Application, prescription drug authorization, controlled-substance authorization, and licensing fees total $400 for applicants seeking permanent status. Temporary licenses cost an additional $100.
To renew an APRN license, nurses must submit their applications by the end of November in even-numbered years. Other required application materials vary based on the candidate's speciality and prescriptive status. However, all nurses should include documentation demonstrating that they remain in good professional standing and have completed the required continuing education and contact hours.
NPs and other APRNs must apply for permission to legally prescribe medications and register with the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). They may maintain DEA approval by completing two hours of pain management and opioid use and management coursework with each license renewal. NPs and APRNs applying for and renewing DEA approval must also register with Alaska's Prescription Drug Monitoring Program.
Career Outlook for Nurses in Alaska
Alaska's growing economy, vast geographical landscape, and changing demographics have all contributed to the state's critical nursing shortage, and the demand for LPNs and RNs remains at an all-time high. Skilled nurses licensed through the Alaska Board of Nursing can expect to find numerous lucrative job opportunities throughout the state, and entry-level nurses draw higher salaries in Alaska than in many other states with lower costs of living.
Recent Alaskan labor statistics indicate that licensed RNs with advanced surgical, emergency room, and other advanced specializations are in short supply. Many LPN and licensed vocational nursing positions also remain unfilled, and opportunities for nurse anesthetists, nurse practitioners, and nurse midwives are rapidly increasing. Compensation is particularly high for nurses who work with underserved populations in rural areas, and for travelling nurses who practice in multiple locations, serving communities in remote parts of the state.
Employment Data For RNs in Alaska
The BLS projects a nationwide 15% job growth rate for RNs between 2016 and 2026. RNs in Alaska who assess patient needs, observe and record medical histories, and consult and collaborate with other healthcare professionals should enjoy steadily increasing career opportunities. Over the next 10 years, recent state labor data projects that job opportunities for RNs in Alaska will enjoy a nearly 21% growth rate. Alaska's high turnover rate among nursing professionals has also contributed to the growing demand for RNs, as well as the increase in job openings. Registered nurses with bachelor's degrees enjoy higher employment growth rates in Alaska than in many other states, and the majority of RNs employed in the state are residents.
RNs in Alaska earn above the annual mean wage for the United States, making roughly $42 an hour compared to the $36 national average. Drawing an annual median salary of over $86,000, Alaskan nurses out-earn RNs elsewhere, who can expect to make around $70,000 per year. In addition, RNs working in Southeast Alaska make more than nurses in other areas, while those employed in cities like Anchorage and Fairbanks earn slightly less than average for the state. Alaskan RNs often find work in hospital settings, with the Veterans Health Administration, in rural clinics, and community health systems throughout Alaska.
Employment Data For CNAs in Alaska
Nursing assistants in Alaska can expect a job growth rate of over 19% between 2016 and 2026, far outpacing the 11% growth rate for nursing assistants nationwide. Most Alaskan nursing assistants and CNAs are state residents who hold diplomas and professional certificates. Private care facilities, nursing homes, hospitals, clinics, and other health service providers drive a growing demand for qualified CNAs. Many nursing assistants and CNAs also work in home healthcare, educational settings, or with government agencies.
CNAs in Alaska earn an annual median salary of more than $37,000, significantly higher than the $27,520 national median. Those who work in urban locations and in Southeast Alaska earn higher-than-average salaries. The cities of Fairbanks and Anchorage rank as the third and eighth highest paying metropolitan areas in the country for the profession. The Southeast Alaska nonmetropolitan area ranks as the highest paying nonmetropolitan area for nursing assistants in the nation.
Employment Data For NPs in Alaska
Like many other healthcare professionals, NPs and APRNs in Alaska can expect to see relatively high job growth rates statewide. The projected job growth rate for NPs throughout the country sits at 36%, while the same professionals can expect a 23% rise in employment in Alaska. Alaska's highly variable conditions afford nurse anesthetists and nurse midwives some expansion advantages over their NP counterparts. State labor data projects that jobs for nurse anesthetists will grow 25%, in contrast to the national 16% rate, while nurse midwives enjoy a comparable 25% projected increase, compared to 21% growth nationwide.
This strong employment growth in advanced practice nursing offers numerous career opportunities for nursing professionals in Alaska. With an annual mean salary exceeding $125,000, Alaska ranks as the second highest paying state in the U.S. for NPs. The national mean salary for NPs sits just over $107,000. NPs in Southeast Alaska and nonmetropolitan areas are among the highest-paid NPs in the country. Nurse anesthetists in Alaska also earn more than the national median. Nurse midwives, however, earn less than the national average.
Biggest Hospitals in Alaska
All of Alaska's 26 hospitals face nursing shortages, with large hospitals in the state's major cities experiencing the most acute need. This shortage is exacerbated by the relatively small number of nursing programs in Alaska which train professionals to fill these positions. While the shortfall has led to a greater number of internships, fellowships, and hands-on training opportunities for students finishing their degrees, Alaskan hospitals have begun to recruit nurses from other states and overseas. Many urban hospitals seek to attract licensed nurses by offering higher-than-average salaries.
- Providence Alaska Medical Center: Located in Anchorage, Providence is Alaska's largest hospital. The medical center admits over 16,000 patients annually and employs 766 nurses and 850 physicians. Providence is also home to Alaska's only Level III neonatal intensive care unit and the state's largest emergency and air ambulance transport department. The hospital is the flagship of the Providence Health System, Alaska's second-largest employer, which operates healthcare facilities across the state.
- Fairbanks Memorial Hospital: This 152-bed, general medical, surgical, and acute care hospital receives close to 5,000 admissions and over 34,000 patients in its emergency room each year. With 1,650 employees, the hospital oversees the Tanana Valley Clinic and the Denali Center. Among the highest rated healthcare facilities in Alaska, Fairbanks Memorial is recognized for its J. Michael Carroll Cancer Center.
Additional Nursing Resources in Alaska
- Alaska Board of Nursing: The state licensing board's official website for nursing certification provides the most up-to-date and accurate information regarding NCLEX exams, licensing requirements, and fees. Site visitors can download applications, find answers to common questions about licensing and nursing practice, and explore federal and state regulations and statutes.
- Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association: This advocacy organization represents hospitals, healthcare facilities, and nursing homes across the state. The association's primary mission is to address medical costs, patients' rights, workplace environments, and other issues impacting healthcare delivery by working with government officials and policymakers. The website offers educational resources, career information, and job listings.
- Alaskan School Nurses Association: This association supports nursing students' educational and career aspirations. Members may access scholarship opportunities, resume and job listings, and information on relevant national and state legislation. This Alaskan organization is affiliated with the National School Nurses Association, which hosts two biannual meetings to foster professional development and networking.
- Alaska Nurses Association: This professional organization represents over 7,000 Alaskan nurses across all specializations and subfields. The organization offers grants and scholarships, information on state healthcare and nursing legislation, and collective bargaining and workplace grievance assistance. The website also offers resources for nurses considering relocating to Alaska.
- American Society of Registered Nurses: This national organization lobbies to raise RN educational standards, promotes research by and for nurses, and supports diversity in the profession. The group also strives to strengthen RNs' work environments and recognize outstanding leadership and professional contributions in the field. ASRN members also receive access to the nation's largest nursing career portal and virtual job fairs.
Accredited Online Nursing Programs in Alaska
To make your research a little easier, we've created a comprehensive database of accredited on-campus and online nursing programs in Alaska. The associate degree in nursing provides a two-year path to entry-level positions, while the online RN-to-BSN programs serve as a bridge to bachelor's degrees and wider employment opportunities. Additionally, the online MSN programs in Alaska provide advanced training for supervisory and specialized positions, and require a completed bachelor's in nursing and 18-24 months to complete.