Nursing is among the fastest-growing professions in the United States. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a 15% increase in jobs for registered nurses by 2026, which is more than double the projected job growth for all occupations. Working in a major metropolitan area, experienced registered nurses can earn above $100,000 annually.
This career appeals to personable individuals who can remain calm under pressure. Registered nurses comprise the frontline of modern medicine. Nurses work closely with patients to ensure comfort and facilitate recovery. Registered nurses enjoy many avenues for growth, including furthering education to become nurse practitioners, physicians' assistants, or physicians. Outside of medical settings, nurses often work as educators, instructing the next generation of nurses.
Whether you pursue an online nursing degree or attend classes on campus, nursing schools in Iowa offer students a high-quality education at competitive prices. After earning your degree, interstate licensure reciprocity agreements allow you to work in 25 states without additional training or certification.
How to Become a Nurse in Iowa
No matter which state you attend school in, the process to become a registered nurse is similar. First, you must earn an associate, bachelor’s, or master’s degree in nursing. Online nursing schools in Iowa may require you to complete a practicum experience near the university or locally. After graduation, you must pass a licensing examination. Depending on the state where you intend to work as a registered nurse, other licensing exams and fees may apply.
1. Choose the Right Path for You
When researching which nursing school in Iowa to attend, there are four paths to consider. Aspiring nurses without a post-high school education can pursue an associate degree in nursing. Completion of this program qualifies you to become a registered nurse (RN). To enjoy higher earnings potential, you should consider earning a bachelor’s in nursing. For seasoned nurses aiming to advance their careers, a master’s in nursing (MSN) qualifies them to become nurse practitioners, who can treat patients and write prescriptions without physician supervision. The doctor of nursing practice degree (DNP) is nursing’s terminal degree. A DNP allows nurses to become educators and researchers. Before committing to an online nursing program in Iowa, make sure that the program is aligned with your background and goals.
2. Earn Your Nursing Degree
There are many questions to consider when researching nursing schools in Iowa. For example, what prerequisites does the school require? Does this program require clinicals, fellowships, or internships? To find the best fit, you should determine if you can fulfill these requirements in addition to your other obligations. Another consideration is how long it takes to earn the degree. An associate degree can take 2-3 years to complete depending on course load and other committments, while a doctoral program requires 3-6 years and prior education. Some online nursing degrees offer accelerated paths, expediting the time to completion. You should also consider whether you want to earn an on-campus or online nursing degree. Online RN programs in Iowa offer many advantages to prospective students, especially those with full-time or part-time jobs.
3. Pass the Licensing Exam and Earn Your License
Most nursing programs in Iowa prepare students for licensing. Your on-campus or online nursing degree provides the knowledge needed to pass the NCLEX-RN, an exam all nursing students must pass before becoming RNs. The exam costs $200, and you take it on a computer at a testing center. The computer-adaptive exam comprises 75-265 questions depending on your answers. Many RNs begin their careers at hospitals in metropolitan areas. More experienced nurses, such as nurse practitioners, work in private practices in suburban or rural settings.
Nursing Licensure in Iowa
Becoming an RN requires more than completing an associate or bachelor’s RN program in Iowa. Nursing students in every state must pass the NCLEX-RN before they can work as an RN. Most questions are multiple choice. The test evaluates knowledge of basic nursing concepts, such as preventing infection and ensuring patient comfort.
If you attend a nursing school in Iowa and pass the NCLEX-RN, 24 other states automatically recognize your nursing license. Working in a nonreciprocal state may require you to pass other exams or complete extra coursework.
Before taking the NCLEX-RN in Iowa, consult the state’s Board of Nursing to learn the latest information regarding licensure requirements.
Nursing Licensing Costs in Iowa
App. Fee $93
State Requirements By Nursing Type
The Iowa Board of Nursing (IBON) requires first-time RN candidates to earn degrees from programs that the board from the originating state approves. This procedure helps online students, who often earn degrees from other jurisdictions. For example, an Iowa resident who earns an online nursing degree from an approved Texas school qualifies for licensure in Iowa. Applicants must have a high school diploma or GED and a valid Social Security number.
After graduation, RN candidates use mail-in or online applications to register with the IBON. A completed application includes $143 in fees, fingerprint cards, official transcripts from all nursing schools, and consent for a background check. After submitting the application, candidates register with Pearson Vue, the organization that issues the NCLEX-RN. Testers pay the $200 exam fee at this point.
When Pearson Vue and the IBON approve a candidate, the tester gets notice of authorization to take the exam and can schedule a date to take the NCLEX-RN. On testing day, learners should bring a photo identification. Within a few days, the IBON processes test results, and those who pass can legally practice as nurses.
Iowa is one of many states in the Nurse Licensure Compact (NLC). RNs from any NLC state can practice in Iowa without further licensing. Nurses from other states file applications for licenses by endorsement with fingerprints, $169 in fees, and license verification. All RNs must complete 36 continuing education hours every 36 months to maintain licensure.
Unlike other types of nursing, the IBON does not oversee certified nursing assistant (CNA) credentials. Instead, candidates should apply through the state’s Department of Inspections and Appeals (DIA). This department updates the Direct Care Worker (DCW) registry, which includes CNAs. Only CNAs seeking work in long-term nursing facilities must apply for the registry. Professionals who work in hospitals and outpatient centers can start working as soon as they graduate from an applicable program.
CNAs who need to be on the DCW registry must first complete a nurse aide education program that includes at least 75 hours of training. While Iowa’s community colleges provide this training, students do not have to choose from only these schools. After graduation, candidates take the written and oral portions of the CNA exam. The DIA does not have preferred providers for this test. Instead, learners take the test at the schools where they complete CNA courses or through private testing centers.
Candidates can apply through the DIA after they pass the exam with only their transcripts; the testing centers share exam scores with the DIA. The application asks for work history and basic identifying information, including Social Security numbers. Active CNAs who transfer from other states submit the same application but do not take the exam. Professionals need to work at least one eight-hour shift in two years to remain on the DCW. Any CNA who leaves the profession and lapses in certification must retake the exam and reapply.
LPN applicants first complete programs that the state board of nursing accredits. Graduates then apply to take the NCLEX-PN, but first, candidates must file IBON applications with their fingerprint cards, a $143 fee, and official transcripts from their LPN programs. Then, applicants complete registration through the NCLEX website. LPN hopefuls must pay the $200 examination fee when they register.
After candidates pass background checks and the IBON approves their application, the board sends notification that they are eligible to take the NCLEX-PN. The exam comprises 75-265 questions depending on a candidate's answers. Once the exam software determines with 95% certainty that a tester will pass or fail, the exam ends. Testers learn their score within a few days of taking the test.
Testers with LPN licenses may need additional training. For example, LPNs must take courses and earn certification to give midline catheters and PICC lines. Certain LPNs also need supervisory certifications if they do not work under RNs.
As with RNs, active LPNs who come to Iowa from any NLC state can practice without further licensing. Those who come from non-NLC states complete the same application for the IBON as new candidates. However, they submit license verifications instead of taking the NCLEX-PN.
Nurse practitioner (NP) candidates must have an active RN license. The license must be in the candidate’s state of primary residence. Applicants from non-NLC states must first transfer their RN license. Candidates need graduate or postgraduate degrees from accredited universities. Students with nurse midwife, registered nurse anesthetist, NP, or clinical nurse specialist MSN concentrations follow the same application procedures. The IBON requires NP applicants to have advanced nursing certifications from national nursing organizations.
Graduates can find a list of these certifying organizations from the American Association of Nurse Practitioner website.
Applicants who meet the board’s standards can submit the application on the IBON website, which must include an $81 fee, proof of national certifications, and official transcripts. NP hopefuls should also inform the board of military service experience or any criminal activity that could show on their background checks. Active NPs who transfer from NLC states use the same form and submit proof of their NP licenses.
NPs who dispense controlled substances must apply for additional licensure through the Iowa Board of Pharmacy and the federal Drug Enforcement Agency. NPs who wish to operate or supervise radiology treatments and tests, including x-rays, must complete the state’s fluoroscopy audit process.
At least 60 days before licenses expire, practitioners should submit renewal applications. When they complete the continuing education requirements to uphold their RN licenses, NPs do not need any other courses for renewal.
Career Outlook for Nurses in Iowa
Students earning an online nursing degree enjoy a bright career outlook; the projected job growth for nurses is more than double that of all professions. In Iowa, nursing positions grew 30% between 2005-2015.
Although Iowa has more nurses per capita than the national average, the large percentage of nurses over the age of 50 indicates that job openings should continue to be available as nurses reach retirement. In the United States, the increasing need for nurses and other medical professionals should continue as the percentage of older Americans increases.
Employment Data For RNs in Iowa
The BLS reports that Iowa is home to 33,280 RNs. On average, these professionals earn $57,930 per year, or $27.85 per hour. Nurses in the Hawkeye State earn less than the national median of $70,000 annually. However, PayScale estimates that the cost of living in Iowa is 10% lower than the national average, and Iowans pay 18% less for housing. This data suggests that RNs in Iowa enjoy similar living standards as their peers in other regions.
An RN's location affects salary. For example, RNs in the Des Moine metropolitan region earn about $60,260 per year, and those around Iowa City make $65,610 annually; nurses in Sioux City and Davenport earn under $54,000 per year, on average. A majority of the RN positions are found in hospitals. Nationwide, hospital positions pay about $6,000 more than average. The BLS projects the demand for nursing to rise by 15% between 2016 and 2026.
Employment Data For CNAs in Iowa
The BLS estimates that CNAs in Iowa earn an average of $28,300 annually. This rate is close to the national mean of $28,540. Many people use CNA positions as starting points in the medical industry while they pursue further education. Those who work for large healthcare organizations may receive tuition reimbursement from their employer.
The bottom 10% of CNAs earn about $20,680 per year, while the top 10% earn approximately $38,630 annually. The average CNA who works in government earns $32,860 yearly, the highest of any type of employer. Hospitals pay the second-highest averages with $29,260 annually. Other facilities, including skilled nursing homes, fall below the average.
Where CNAs live also impacts salary. For example, the average CNA in Iowa City earns $30,490 each year, while CNAs in Dubuque earn about $26,270 annually. The BLS projects this career to grow 11% between 2016 and 2026.
Employment Data For NPs in Iowa
The average NP in Iowa earns $104,130 annually, which is close to the national average of $107,480. As with other types of nursing, an NP’s location, specialty, and employer type can affect earning potential. For example, the NPs in the Sioux City area earn an average of $124,090 annually, while Davenport NPs make about $97,690.
Nationwide, NPs who work in management earn $24,720 above average, at $132,200 annually. Those who work in hospitals or government agencies also typically earn more than the mean. Nurse anesthetists, who earn licenses in the same way as NPs in Iowa, enjoy higher salaries than most types of nursing, with a nationwide average of $165,120. The mean annual salary for this position in Iowa is $198,140.
The BLS projects the demand for NPs to grow 36% between 2016 and 2026. The lack of healthcare in rural areas drives NPs to fill in the gaps in these regions.
Biggest Hospitals in Iowa
After earning an online nursing degree, many nurses pursue employment at Iowa’s hospitals. Working in a hospital exposes you to different fields of medicine, allowing you to find a nursing niche. When starting a nursing program in Iowa, look to local hospitals for internship or fellowship opportunities, which can make your resume stand out to future employers.
- University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics: With nearly 700 beds and over 30,000 patients admitted for inpatient care annually, UIHC boasts one of the best pediatric specialty programs in the country. Students completing a nursing program in Iowa should consider UIHC if they plan to work primarily with children. UIHC employs 2,800 nurses at its main hospital in Iowa City, its satellite campus in Coralville, and over 200 outpatient clinics across the state.
- Mercy Medical Center-Des Moines: At Mercy, over 7,000 staff members treat 30,000 patients every year. Mercy is part of an extensive network of hospitals administered by Catholic Health Initiatives (CHI). This network gives nurses the option to transfer between CHI hospitals if they decide to move out of state.
Additional Nursing Resources in Iowa
- Iowa Board of Nursing: For students attending a nursing school online in Iowa, the IBON site contains the latest information regarding nursing licensure and employment trends. For practicing nurses, the site offers information on licensure renewal and continuing education.
- Iowa Nurses Association: This association advocates for nurses across the state. It offers valuable resources for prospective nursing students, including scholarship opportunities. The association’s career center connects recent graduates to job hunting resources. Members also benefit from special rates on auto, life, and professional liability insurance.
- National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners: Since 1973, NAPNAP has worked to improve healthcare for children and adolescents. If you are working toward an online MSN program in Iowa, NAPNAP can connect you with job resources and discounts on insurance. NAPNAP also keeps members up to date with the latest research on nursing best practices.
- National Student Nurses Association: This association offers networking opportunities and many NCLEX-RN guides at a reduced cost. Additionally, members receive discounts at many retailers.
- Iowa Nurse Practitioner Society: This society’s members lobby the state legislature for laws and policies that improve patient outcomes and working conditions for hospital staff in Iowa.
Accredited Online Nursing Programs in Iowa
When researching online nursing schools in Iowa, consider only those with accreditation. The list below contains all accredited online nursing programs in the state. Before exploring the list, take a moment to review the three main types of nursing programs. At a minimum, RNs must complete an associate degree in nursing. Online RN-to-BSN programs in Iowa allow RNs to earn their bachelor’s, which expands salary and job opportunities. Online MSN programs in Iowa equip RNs to become NPs. Others earn this degree to become instructors in a nursing program. Iowa’s colleges and universities offer online nursing degrees at each of these levels.