Registered nurses (RNs) earn a median salary of $70,000 per year, and a degree in nursing can lead to careers in hospitals, private practices, schools, and the military. Nurses are needed anywhere that provides healthcare services. Like doctors, nurses are in demand across the country and the world. This means that with an on-campus or online nursing degree and a nursing license, you can relocate to another city, state, or town, and easily find work.
As baby boomers age and rates of obesity and diabetes increase, the demand for nurses continues to grow. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a 15% increase in registered nurse jobs from 2016 to 2026. This translates to approximately 437,000 new nursing positions that need to be filled. For students considering attending a nursing program in Montana, now is an excellent time to begin preparing for a career in the field.
How to Become a Nurse in Montana
Nursing school graduates across the U.S. go through a similar process to become licensed in their state. However, it is important to keep in mind the specific requirements and procedures in Montana if you intend to work in the state after earning your online nursing degree. For example, graduates of RN programs in Montana must pay a $100 application fee to the Montana Board of Nursing and pay an additional $200 to take the NCLEX-RN examination.
1. Choosing the Right Path for You
Choosing what type of nurse you want to be is the first step toward finding the right nursing program in Montana. At minimum, you need an associate degree in nursing (ADN) to qualify for the NCLEX-RN licensing exam and to become a registered nurse. An associate degree only takes about two years to complete, but you’ll need additional credentials to advance beyond introductory nursing positions. Advanced nurses, like nurse anesthetists and nurse practitioners, are required to have BSN and MSN degrees, respectively. Online RN-to-BSN programs in Montana allow associate degree holders to earn a BSN in only two or three years. If you plan on eventually teaching nursing to college students, you need to earn an MSN or a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree.
2. Earn Your Nursing Degree
It is important to decide whether you want to pursue a nursing degree online or on campus. Earning a degree at one of the many online nursing schools in Montana can provide you the with flexibility you need to work a full-time job while obtaining your degree. On the other hand, on-campus RN, MSN, or BSN programs in Montana sometimes include fellowships, internships, and other useful practical experience. All online nursing degrees will require clinical hours that can be completed near a student’s place of residence. Make sure to research the specifics of any program you apply to in order to find out about their guidelines and requirements regarding internships and fellowships, as well as prerequisites. On-campus and online BSN programs in Montana typically take about four years, and RN programs in Montana take about two years. However, accelerated nursing programs in Montana allow you to double-up on courses and earn a degree faster than normal.
3. Pass the Licensing Exam and Earn Your License
Graduates from nursing schools in Montana must pass the NCLEX-RN examination in order to become a nurse. The test costs $200 and is administered online. The length of the exam varies based on how well the student is doing. The test ends automatically once the computer determines with 95% certainty that the candidate is or is not qualified to become a nurse. The NCLEX-RN will last six hours at the most. A traditional or online nursing degree will prepare you somewhat for the exam, but you will likely need to study on your own and become familiar with the test format. Getting licensed is the final step before you can search for and land your dream nursing job.
Nursing Licensure in Montana
Getting an online nursing degree is just the first step towards being able to practice in a medical setting. In order to work as a nurse, graduates from nursing colleges in Montana must apply for a license through the Montana Board of Nursing. The Montana Board requires that candidates attend one of thirteen approved BSN, RN, or LPN programs to begin the licensing process. Licensed practical nurse (LPN) and registered nurse (RN) candidates must then pass the relevant NCLEX exam, which is the national standard for the licensing of nurses. More information on the exam can be found on the National Council of State Boards of Nursing website.
In 2015, Montana became a member of the Nurse Licensure Compact. Nurses who are licensed in one of the compact states are allowed to practice in any of the 25 member states, giving graduates of online nursing programs in Montana a great deal of flexibility in where they work. Nurses who wish to practice outside of the compact states must transfer their license to their new state of residence. For more information on licensing requirements, examinations, and approved programs, be sure to consult the Montana Board of Nursing.
Nursing Licensing Costs in Montana
App Fee $100
State Requirements By Nursing Type
To become an RN in Montana, the Montana Board of Nursing requires that you successfully earn your diploma in a basic professional curriculum from an approved school of nursing. Of the 14 nursing schools operating in Montana, 11 offer the entry-level associate of science in nursing. However, the bachelor of science in nursing, which is offered by four Montana colleges, will open more professional opportunities at the beginning of your career.
Once you have chosen and completed your required degree, you must complete the licensing process, which consists of three steps. First, an applicant must ensure that their nursing school sends their transcripts directly to the Montana Board of Nursing to verify the date of graduation and degree or credential conferred. Next, you must submit the licensure application. This requires a fee of $100, and submission of fingerprints for a background check. Finally, you must register to take the NCLEX-RN exam with Pearson VUE. This rigorous online adaptive exam must be completed within an allotted period of six hours. Test takers should plan to arrive 30 minutes before the exam starts.
Out-of-state applicants may seek licensure by examination, as described above, or licensure by credentialing if licensed in another state. However, those licensed as an RN in another state may benefit from Montana’s membership in the Nurse Licensure Compact.
As of October of 2018, registered nurses must renew their license every two years. Active nurses must complete 24 hours of continuing education credits within those two years.
Certified nursing assistants (CNA) are certified through the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services, rather than the Montana Board of Nursing. High school graduates may apply for the certified nurse aide training program, which is designed to build competency in 78 health care topics and skills. Many organizations provide approved CNA training in Montana. The training involves a minimum of 75 instructional hours, with at least 25 of those hours taught in a clinical setting.
Aspiring CNAs in Montana may attempt to forgo the training program by taking the state CNA exam. However, the student must pass the exam on their first attempt. If they fail, aspiring CNAs must then enroll in a state approved CNA training program. Upon completing the program, students may then take up to six months or three attempts to successfully pass the exam.
The Montana CNA exam evaluates a student’s skills and knowledge. The skills portion of the exam costs $77. The knowledge portion can be taken in a written or oral format. After receiving approval to take the examination, the student must make arrangements for the test with an approved nurse evaluator, and for that test to take place within two weeks of approval.
CNAs must renew their licenses every two years, although it does not require continuing education hours. Renewal simply involves completing and submitting the renewal application. Those who do not renew their license in a timely manner must retake the certification examination.
Becoming a licensed practical nurse (LPN) in Montana requires a certificate of applied science in nursing, which can be earned by completing a 2-3 semester course of study. Five colleges in Montana offer the program. Upon graduation, applicants must register through Pearson Vue and pay the $200 fee to take the NCLEX-PN examination. This examination tests the kind of high-level thinking a nurse must apply in many situations. As the nature of the exam is computer adaptive, students may address anywhere from 85-205 questions, with 112 being the average needed to determine competence. The exam allots a maximum of six hours for completion. You should plan to arrive 30 minutes early to your test site.
When applying for state licensure as an LPN, you must ensure that your school sends an official transcript directly to the Montana Board of Nursing to authenticate completion of the program. You must also submit fingerprints for a background security check. Finally, the board will need a copy of your NCLEX-PN test results.
Out-of-state applicants may receive LPN licensure in Montana without a residency requirement. They may seek licensure by examination as described above, or licensure by credentialing if they are already licensed in another state.
As of October of 2018, LPNs must renew their license every two years. Active nurses must complete 24 hours of continuing education credits within those two years.
Nurse practitioners (NP) are certified through the Montana Board of Nursing under the general category of advanced practice registered nurse (APRN). The category also includes certified nurse midwife, certified registered nurse anesthetist, and clinical nurse specialist. All APRNs must be licensed in Montana as registered nurses, or be licensed with a multi-state designation from another compact state. The specific APRN categories, including NP, function as specialty certifications. In addition to a valid RN license, applicants for the NP certification must complete a graduate level degree in nursing and have their university send the official degree transcript to the Montana Board of Nursing.
Applicants must also submit a current and valid APRN certification from an approved agency. For nurse practitioners, the Montana Board of Nursing accepts certifications from the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners, the American Nurses Credentialing Center, the Pediatric Nurse Certification Board, and the National Certification Corporation. Applicants must pay $75 for each specialty certification. NPs seeking to practice with prescriptive authority must apply for this additional certification and document sufficient coursework in pharmacology. The application for this certification requires a fee of $100.
As of October 2018, registered nurses of all categories must renew their license every two years. Active nurse practitioners must complete 24 hours of continuing education credits within those two years.
Career Outlook for Nurses in Montana
The healthcare industry is the fastest-growing sector in Montana, and is projected to continue growing for years to come. Montana's Department of Labor and Industry projects that the healthcare industry will add approximately 1,100 jobs per year through 2025. According to the Department of Labor and Industry, this growth is due in part to Montana’s aging population. As a result, nursing graduates can expect to find the most jobs in hospitals, nursing homes, and long-term care facilities.
The BLS projects that Montana will add 1,910 jobs for registered nurses between 2016 and 2026. In addition, the BLS expects that there will be 260 more openings for licensed practical nurses in Montana in that time. The BLS also projects an additional 190 nurse practitioner jobs in the state in that time period.
Employment Data For RNs in Montana
According to the 2015 survey, The Status of the Nursing Workforce in Montana, more than 15,000 active registered nurses currently work in Montana. Only 1.3% of Montana’s RNs identify as unemployed but actively seeking employment. This number falls well below the national average of 2.3%. Despite this tight competition for their services, registered nurses in Montana make an average salary of $51,000 to $53,000 depending on whether they hold an ASN or a BSN. This range falls well below the national median salary of $70,000.
Montana RNs holding a graduate degree report an average salary of $68,000. The salary range varies by region, with those working in the more populated areas earning considerably higher salaries than those working in rural regions. Additionally, nurses working in rural areas tend to have a broader sampling of nursing responsibilities than those working in more populated areas.
Similar to national distribution patterns, the vast majority of Montana RNs work in hospitals and clinics, with physician offices employing the next largest group, and skilled nursing facilities and home health services coming next.
Employment Data For LPNs in Montana
According to The Status of the Nursing Workforce in Montana survey, more than three-fourths of Montana LPNs work as staff nurses and earn a median salary of $36,000. This falls well below the national median income of $44,090. Fewer than 3% work as clinical nurse leaders, who earn a median annual salary of $50,000. Only 2.9% of actively licensed LPNs continue to look for employment, which is far below the national average. About half of Montana’s LPNs have earned only a certificate in nursing. However, a growing percentage pursue their associate degree.
While most RNs work in hospitals, only 14% of LPNs work in the same context. Most work in nursing homes and ambulatory care centers. Other employers include public health and home health services. The vast majority of LPNs work in the southwestern region of the state, which stretches from Bozeman to Kalispell. Interestingly, LPNs working in the north-central portion of the state boast somewhat higher mean annual incomes. In the more rural, eastern portions of the state, a significant number of LPNs work as travel nurses.
Employment Data For NPs in Montana
Montana groups nurse practitioners with certified nurse midwife, certified registered nurse anesthetist, and clinical nurse specialist under the general heading of APRN. APRNs earn a median salary of $91,000 in Montana, compared to nearly $111,000 for their counterparts nationally. Despite the lower salary, the demand for such highly trained nurses remains strong. Similar to trends for other types of nursing, the vast majority of nurse practitioners work in the more populated western areas of the state. APRNs can practice independently. Only 18 other states offer this flexibility.
In contrast to RNs not working in advanced practice, a higher percentage of NPs will work in clinics and related health centers, rather than hospitals. In such contexts, they may provide the bulk of primary care services. Certified registered nurse anesthetists; however, work almost exclusively in hospitals and large clinics.
Biggest Hospitals in Montana
The largest hospitals tend to have the most open positions for nurses. Large hospitals may also have fellowship and internship opportunities for students looking to gain practical experience before graduation. So before you finish your degree, take a look at the following list of some of the largest hospitals in Montana.
- Billings Clinic: Based in Montana’s capital city, Billings Clinic is the state’s largest healthcare organization. It serves patients in Montana, as well as in parts of Wyoming and the Dakotas. The 4,000 employees include 400 physicians specializing in more than 50 areas. The hospital’s Billings campus features a Level II trauma center and a 304-bed hospital.
- St. Vincent Healthcare: This hospital has been in operation for more than 115 years and includes 11 primary care clinics within and near Billings. It also operates a children’s hospital and employs more than 500 medical professionals. St. Vincent is a division of SCL Health, which has 11 hospitals across three states.
- Benefis Healthcare: Benefis employs more than 3,000 people, making it the largest nongovernmental employer in Great Falls. It serves nearly a quarter-million residents from 15 counties and has 530 beds. In addition to its extensive in-house staff, Benefis works with more than 250 partner physicians in the Great Falls area.
Additional Nursing Resources in Montana
- CNE BY MNA: This page, run by the Montana Nurses Association, provides resources on continuing education. It has information on webinars that teach nurses about patient care, professional relationships, and their own health. In addition, this page contains important information on local meetings and conferences for nurses.
- MNA LABOR SERVICES: The Montana Nurses Association helps nurses with information on collective bargaining and other labor-related topics. The page has resources that teach nurses about their rights, let them know about organizing in the industry, and show them how to fill out important forms.
- MONTANA BOARD OF NURSING REGULATIONS: Through this page, nursing students and nursing graduates can become familiar with the rules and regulations that apply to nursing in Montana. This page includes information on statutes and rules, as well as the legislative process that puts laws in place.
- MONTANA STUDENT NURSES’ ASSOCIATION JOB BOARD: One of the many useful resources provided by the Montana Student Nurses’ Association is their nursing jobs board. The association posts openings and offers links to careers pages at major Montana hospitals and healthcare facilities. Be sure to check out this page regularly for the latest job postings.
- MONTANA DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES: This page can help nursing students learn about the many healthcare and medical services programs offered by the state government. It is important for nurses to have a detailed knowledge of Montana’s prescription drug programs, health insurance plans, and other public health initiatives.
Accredited Online Nursing Programs in Montana