The nursing profession is experiencing enormous growth due to a rapidly aging population and changes to the U.S. healthcare system. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a 15% job growth for registered nurses from by 2026, more than twice as fast as the average for all occupations. Registered nurses can achieve state licensure with a two-year degree; however, the industry is moving toward a four-year degree for entry-level employment and licensure. Because higher education ties to increased earning power, individuals can expect the change in educational standards to lead to higher pay for all types of nursing.
Hopeful nursing professionals may find that Pennsylvania offers unique career opportunities. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 17.4% of Pennsylvania's population is older than 65. This number hovers 2.2% higher than the national average. Pennsylvania boasts the fifth-highest employment level of registered nurses in the U.S. Additionally, business is booming in the state's major metropolitan areas, and the healthcare industry enjoyed the state's second-highest job growth in 2016.
How to Become a Nurse in Pennsylvania
Aspiring nurses across the U.S. follow essentially the same steps to achieve licensure for all types of nursing, with some minor state-specific differences. Each state's Board of Nursing (BON) reviews applications, sets fees, and establishes application deadlines. The BON oversees any other state-specific variations to normal procedure. For example, the Pennsylvania BON reviews new graduates' temporary practice permit applications and NCLEX-RN examination registrations. Keep reading to learn more about the path to nursing licensure in Pennsylvania.
1. Choose the Path That's Right for You
For now, you can qualify for Pennsylvania licensure with a two-year degree, but the industry is changing this standard. The Institute of Medicine recommends that 80% of all RNs should hold at least a BSN by 2020. If you are new to nursing school, you may wish to enroll in a four-year BSN program. If you are a working RN, consider enrolling in a campus-based or online RN-to-BSN program in Pennsylvania. If your career goals extend to advanced practice nursing, plan to continue your studies in a master's program in nursing. Likewise, aspiring nurse educators and executive administrators should plan to attend a nursing school in Pennsylvania to complete a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree.
2. Earn Your Nursing Degree
Whether you are new to nursing or hoping to advance your career, nursing schools in Pennsylvania offer campus-based or online nursing degrees at every academic level. Consider online nursing degrees that match your career goals and make sure you meet prerequisites for entry. Hands-on learning experiences remain key in nursing education. Individuals should note that clinical requirements often vary significantly. Investigate onsite requirements carefully and ensure that you can manage them, particularly if you plan to attend nursing school online in Pennsylvania. Most online nursing degrees allow you to complete clinical hours at a nearby medical facility. Also note program length. For example, accelerated nursing programs in Pennsylvania can lead to a degree in a few months. An online BSN program in Pennsylvania typically lasts four years.
3. Pass the Licensing Exam and Earn Your License
Nursing schools in Pennsylvania design their curricula to prepare graduates for the NCLEX-RN exam after graduation. The computer-based exam consists of multiple-choice questions that respond to your performance as you progress through the material. The exam's intuitive structure results in tests of varying lengths, but no exam lasts longer than six hours. After you finish an RN or BSN program in Pennsylvania, you must apply online for Pennsylvania professional licensing. You may register for the NCLEX-RN exam when you receive approval. Passing the exam grants you license to practice, but it does not guarantee your employment.
Nursing Licensure in Pennsylvania
After you complete your online nursing degree, you stand one step closer to professional licensure. First, you must apply for Pennsylvania professional licensure and pay $35 to the Pennsylvania Department of State. Second, you must apply to Pearson VUE for an exam slot and pay a $200 fee. The Pennsylvania BON reviews both applications, provides oversight on proper documentation, and issues approval on state professional licensure. Pearson then provides you with an Authorization to Test (ATT) that remains valid for two years. With ATT in hand, you may register for a test date. Strive to schedule your exam as soon as possible to account for unforeseen delays or retakes.
Exam results arrive via postal mail in about a month, though you may pay a small fee for express online access. When you pass the exam, you are licensed to practice nursing in Pennsylvania. If you desire to work outside Pennsylvania, you must meet that state's endorsement requirements. New graduates of nursing colleges in Pennsylvania may apply for a temporary practice permit for an additional $35. This permit allows them to work under the close supervision of an RN while they wait to take the exam.
State Requirements by Nursing Type
To become a registered nurse in Pennsylvania, candidates must first graduate from a state-approved nursing program. Program graduates then apply for the ATT with the State Board of Nursing. In this application, graduates must include a Criminal History Records Check (CHRC) and processing fees of $35 ($100 for out-of-state graduates). Graduates then register for the NCLEX-RN exam and pay the $200 registration fee. The state board requires that all candidates complete the exam within one year of graduation.
During this timeframe, students may apply for a Temporary Practice Permit (TPP), which allows graduates to practice nursing under direct supervision from a professional. Once the year runs out or the candidate attempts the NCLEX-RN exam, the state board voids the TPP. After receiving the ATT, graduates may attempt the NCLEX-RN exam. When a candidate passes the exam, which consists of 75-265 multiple-choice questions, the Pennsylvania nursing board issues the individual a registered nursing licence. Students can verify licenses online through the board directory.
Along with additional processing fees, out-of-state nursing candidates may require further documentation in their applications. International students who graduated from a nursing program taught in a language other than English must successfully complete a board-approved English proficiency exam and submit a report from a board-approved foreign credential evaluator. Registered nurses with licensure in jurisdictions other than Pennsylvania may apply for licensure by endorsement through the board. All registered nurses in Pennsylvania renew their licenses every two years, completing 30 hours of continuing education during this timeframe.
Aspiring CNAs in Pennsylvania must first obtain a CHRC and receive a physical examination. Candidates must complete these steps before enrolling in a board-approved Nurse Aide Training and Competency Evaluation Program (NATCEP). While the classes offered through each of these programs vary, each approved NATCEP includes a minimum of 37.5 hours of clinical instruction.
Upon program completion, candidates should follow the steps to enroll with the Pennsylvania Nurse Aide Registry and apply to take the National Nurse Aide Assessment Program (NNAAP) exam. Candidates must first apply for exam eligibility through the Pennsylvania Department of Education. Candidates must complete the application to test within one year of graduating from the NATCEP. Once approved, candidates must successfully complete the NNAAP exam in a single attempt within one year.
The NNAAP exam includes a skills assessment along with a written and oral component. The test costs $102, and the skills component of the test always includes a hand-washing element. If the allowed time elapses or if the candidate fails the exam, candidates must reapply for eligibility. Once the candidate passes the test, CNA certification and licensure follows shortly after. Each licensed CNA must provide at least eight hours of care services every two years to maintain enrollment in the Pennsylvania registry. Certified nursing assistants who do not satisfy the practice requirements must retest. Licensed out-of-state CNAs can receive Pennsylvania licenses through reciprocity, permitted they meet the educational and practice requirements.
The first step for aspiring LPNs in Pennsylvania requires that candidates complete one of the board-approved LPN programs. These programs typically emphasize clinical practice. The Pennsylvania nursing board does not accept RN programs as replacements for LPN programs. Once candidates complete an approved program, they must obtain a CHRC and submit the exam application along with the $35 application fee ($100 for out-of-state applicants).
The next step requires candidates to register for the NCLEX-PN exam and pay the $200 registration fee. Once the board approves the application, candidates receive an ATT, which enables them to attempt the NCLEX-PN. Candidates must complete the exam within one year of graduating from their LPN program. During this period, nursing graduates may apply for a TPP, which allows them to practice nursing under supervision. Once the candidate attempts the exam or the one-year time period elapses, the TPP becomes ineligible. Upon completing the exam, candidates receive their license and certification. LPNs verify licenses online through the Pennsylvania Licensing System Verification service.
International applicants who completed an LPN program in a non-English language must submit results from a board-approved English proficiency exam. They may also require a full report from an approved foreign credential evaluator. Candidates who hold licenses in other jurisdictions may apply for licensure by endorsement, permitting their license remains in good standing and the LPN completed an approved educational program with a minimum of 1,500 instruction hours.
Aspiring NPs in Pennsylvania must follow the step-by-step instructions revealed in the application checklist provided by the Department of State. In Pennsylvania, NPs require a nursing license and a national certification to earn the title of Certified Registered Nurse Practitioner (CRNP). The application for licensure requires a CHRC, proof of at least three hours of training in a specialized child abuse recognition and reporting course, and a verified master's degree (or post-master's degree) in nursing from an approved and accredited institution. NP candidates must also show proof of certification from one of the accredited National Certification Exam centers. The application costs $100.
NPs must renew their CRNP certification and nursing license every two years. NPs must also complete 30 hours of continuing education, including 16 hours in pharmacology, from one of the approved continuing education organizations. NPs may apply for prescriptive authority, permitted they pay the $50 initial application fee and boast the required credits in opioid education and pharmacology.
Out-of-state candidates must follow the same steps and provide an official transcript to the board of nursing for verification. NPs licensed out-of-state may apply for licensure granted they meet state requirements. Pennsylvania NPs who allow their certification to hit the inactive status must meet the continuing education and continued practice requirements for renewal. NPs with licenses that remained inactive for more than five years must either complete a board-approved license reactivation course or retake the national certification examination.
Career Outlook for Nurses in Pennsylvania
The healthcare industry helps drive Pennsylvania's economy, representing the state's largest job source. Often able to house hundreds of patients at a time, hospitals deliver high-level care within key specialty areas such as oncology, cardiology, and pediatrics. Hospital facilities, doctor's offices, outpatient clinics, ambulatory care centers, and surgical centers can offer working nurses a glimpse of potential career paths.
If you aspire to work as a cardiology nurse practitioner, working as an RN in a cardiology clinic may provide you with valuable career insight long before you complete an online MSN program in Pennsylvania. Conversely, employment in one of Pennsylvania's prestigious teaching universities can open the door to a career in an uncommon nursing subspecialty such as forensics or research. All online nursing degree students should note that nurse salaries remain highest in eastern Pennsylvania near the New York City and Philadelphia metropolitan areas.
Employment Data for RNs in Pennsylvania
The RN profession benefits from a promising outlook across the country. With a $70,000 median annual salary and a projected growth of 15%, more than double that of the average career, registered nursing represents a desirable field. While hospitals remain the largest employer for RNs, employing 61% of them, other industries provide financial benefits. Government positions, for example, offer annual mean wages of $75,900, whereas pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing offer mean wages of more than $90,000, the highest of all industry options for RNs.
In Pennsylvania, the data paints a similar picture. While the $69,820 annual mean wage compares to the national average, the state employs the country's fifth-largest RN workforce. In fact, the Bloomsburg-Berwick metropolitan area boasts the nation's highest concentration of RN jobs. Some metropolitan areas offer higher salaries than others. The Newark region boasts annual average salaries of $84,310.
While many non-metropolitan areas offer hospital positions and home healthcare services, Pennsylvania's metropolitan regions remain the most desirable locations for RNs in the state. The combination of heavily concentrated employment opportunities and higher-paying positions on average makes the larger Pennsylvania cities a hotbed for qualified RNs seeking work and a place to live.
Employment Data for CNAs in Pennsylvania
Certified nursing assistants earn a median wage of $27,520, which hovers below the median wage for all occupations nationally. However, analysts project a strong career outlook for the profession. The projected job growth of 11% for nursing assistants and 24% for home health aides through 2026 helps students look forward to careers as CNAs. Additionally, many industries offer more lucrative salaries than the average CNA position, including the government or speciality hospitals, which pay mean wages of $32,860 and $31,120, respectively.
Although nearly 40% of CNAs work in nursing care facilities, hospitals employ nearly 17% of nursing assistants. In total, Pennsylvania employs more than 75,000 nursing assistants, the fifth-highest workforce in the U.S. The state's annual mean wage of more than $30,000 compares well with the national average, but Pennsylvania's employment opportunities surpass the national averages, particularly in metropolitan areas.
Employing nearly 13 assistants per every 1,000 jobs, Pennsylvania represents one of the highest concentrations of jobs among all states. The Bloomsburg-Berwick region employs more than 26 nursing assistants per 1,000 jobs, ranking as the fourth-highest concentration among all non-metropolitan centers nationwide. The Newark metropolitan center, boasting more than 15,500 assistants, makes up the country's tenth-largest workforce of assistants. Opportunity and access to positions in Pennsylvania cities makes these regions appealing to CNA graduates.
Employment Data for NPs in Pennsylvania
NPs comprise one of the country's most promising nursing fields. Analysts project jobs to grow 31% through 2026, and the $110,930 median annual wage nearly tripling the average occupation's wages. Pennsylvania hosts one of the nation's largest NP workforces, with more than 5,700 professionals. Despite the state's $98,260 annual mean wage falling below the national average, many Pennsylvania locations provide strong working conditions for NPs.
In Pennsylvania, the metropolitan centers host the bulk of NP opportunities. Some metropolitan centers offer higher mean salaries than national and state averages, such as East Stroudsburg at $111,590 and Bloomsburg-Berwick at $111,290. Some city centers provide more job opportunities, such as Philadelphia employing 1,270 of the state's NPs. Some provide higher pay and more opportunities, such as the Newark NJ-PA region, which employs 1,290 NPs and boasts an annual mean wage of $116,900.
Since 46% of NPs work in physician offices and 28% work in hospitals, most states see similar trends. However, many NPs work outside the city centers. In fact, NPs find many of the highest-paying industries outside hospitals and beyond the metropolitan borders. Personal care services, for example, boast an annual mean wage of $139,460 and technical or consulting services maintain an annual mean wage of $132,200.
Biggest Hospitals in Pennsylvania
As many students prepare to complete their online nursing degree, they wisely look to the nearest large hospital for opportunities. Large medical facilities hire more nurses and also extend opportunities to inexperienced nurses. Many of these entities also offer fellowships and other training opportunities in specialty areas. Pennsylvania boasts an abundance of medical facilities of all sizes along with enormous teaching hospital campuses. See below for more on two of the state's largest hospitals.
- University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Presbyterian Shadyside : This teaching hospital can treat up to 1,482 medical and surgical patients. Recognized for its excellence in organ transplantation, cardiology, and cardiothoracic surgery, the hospital also houses a designated Level I Trauma Center emergency room. UPMC Shadyside employs more than 14,000 registered nurses in 17 clinical specialties.
- Thomas Jefferson University Hospital : This Philadelphia-based teaching hospital houses up to 951 acutely ill or surgical patients at one time. The hospital remains well known for its expertise in ophthalmology, orthopedics, and ENT treatment. Nearly 550,000 patients per year are treated here by more than 8,000 employees. Of the hospital's staff, 3,231 are full-time or part-time registered nurses.
Additional Nursing Resources in Pennsylvania
- Pennsylvania State Nurses Association: Protecting the interests of Pennsylvania nursing professionals and patients, PSNA advocates for the profession and influences public policy. The PSNA site details current legislative advocacy, lists political and networking events on tap, and serves as a donor point for its PAC fund. Members also have access to continuing education resources.
- Young Nurse Professionals: Although this networking group operates under the PSNA, it is not political in nature. Instead, the group provides opportunities for young nurses to meet and develop professionally outside of the workplace. Member benefits include newsletters, webinars, networking events, mentoring opportunities, leadership training, and industry conferences.
- Student Nurses' Association of Pennsylvania: This chapter of the National Student Nurses' Association offers member benefits such as annual conventions, newsletters, scholarships, leadership training, NCLEX-RN prep, and local social and networking events for students in nursing schools in Pennsylvania.
- Nurse Practitioners of Pennsylvania: Designed to serve and support the state's nurse executives, PONL offers member benefits including leadership training, annual conferences, networking events, professional speakers, an online discussion forum, and a job board.
- Pennsylvania Emergency Nurses Association: Dedicated to providing support and knowledge to Pennsylvania ER nurses and their families, PAENA offers benefits such as continuing education opportunities, webinars, annual conventions, newsletters, and a job board.
Accredited Online Nursing Programs in Pennsylvania
Curricula for nursing programs transfer easily to online study, and working nurses often take advantage of distance learning's flexibility. Luckily, Pennsylvania boasts many nursing schools offering online nursing degrees. In the database below, you can explore all accredited online nursing schools in Pennsylvania. These online nursing degrees include ADN, BSN, RN-to-BSN, MSN, and DNP programs.