Medical professionals remain some of the highest-paid and well-respected workers in the United States, and as the population expands, the demand for healthcare professionals of all backgrounds to work in hospitals, doctor's offices, and a host of other medical settings continues to grow.
Nursing persists as one of the most exciting and fastest-growing healthcare fields, and obtaining a degree in nursing can put you on the fast track to an excellent salary and fulfilling career. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that there will be 437,000 more jobs for registered nurses (RNs) by 2026.
Aspiring nurses in the Pacific Northwest should consider attending one of Washington's nursing schools. Seattle continues to develop as one of the fastest-growing cities in the United States, and a growing population typically yields more jobs in the healthcare field. RNs in Washington earn an average salary of $80,120 per year, well over the national average of $68,450. Washington offers many excellent nursing schools, especially in Spokane and the Seattle metropolitan area, but online nursing degrees allow students to earn a nursing education while working full time or attending to life's obligations. This page outlines key information on online nursing degrees and lists some of the best online nursing programs in Washington.
How to Become a Nurse in Washington
All nursing candidates across the U.S. generally undergo the same process to become a nurse. They must submit applications to the local nursing board, pay a fee, and take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) exam. However, each state possesses specific requirements, Washington included. The Nursing Care Quality Assurance Commission (NCQAC) requires forms and fees specific to the state of Washington. Read on for the general process graduates from RN programs can expect to experience in the state.
1. Choosing the Right Path for You
Selecting the right path in nursing begins with a decision regarding the degree that best fits your life goals. At minimum, an associate degree in nursing (ADN) remains a requirement to obtain a nursing license. With an ADN, you can qualify for the NCLEX exam and apply for a nursing license from Washington's Department of Health. However, employers for entry-level nursing positions now prefer a bachelor of science in nursing (BSA), as the Institute of Medicine calls for 80 percent of nurses to hold a BSN by 2020. If considering an advanced nursing career such as a nurse practitioner (NP) or nurse anesthetist, you may want to pursue a higher level degree such as a master of science in nursing (MSN) or a doctor of nursing practice (DNP). If you plan on teaching nursing at the collegiate level, you will need an advanced degree.
2. Earn Your Nursing Degree
In your search for a nursing program, you will find that nursing schools in Washington vary in their formats, requirements, and length. Online nursing degrees generally offer a more flexible and affordable option than attending an on-campus program. For example, earning an online nursing degree helps to avoid costs like transportation, textbooks, and housing. Also, keep in mind that most online programs still require fellowships, internships, or clinicals. Most nursing programs take around 2-4 years to complete, depending on the degree you choose. Online BSN programs in Washington take about four years, whereas online MSN programs in Washington require about two years. Accelerated nursing programs in Washington allow students to complete their degree in even less time.
3. Pass the Licensing Exam and Earn Your License
The NCLEX exam remains the national standard for evaluating nursing candidates. All graduates of Washington nursing schools must pass it. The six-hour test costs $200, in addition to the other fees candidates must pay to NCQAC, and explores topics covered in nursing school, but students should still spend plenty of personal time preparing. Most nursing programs in Washington inform students about the format of the exam, but you can find more in-depth information on the exam's website. Once you pass the exam, you can begin your job search with the proper credentials.
Nursing Licensure in Washington
You only need to take one test, the NCLEX exam, to become a licensed nurse in the state of Washington. This thorough exam covers topics such as psychosocial integrity and infection control. Students must answer questions until a computer program can determine with 95% certainty whether they meet standards or not. Visit the NCQAC's website to learn more about the NCLEX exam.
To qualify for the exam, candidates must prove that they graduated from an accredited RN, BSN, LPN, or ADN program. Nurses licensed in a nurse licensure compact (NLC) state can practice legally in any of the other member states. Washington, however, does not take part in NLC for any type of nursing, and a license from the state of Washington does not apply to any other states. Any nurse that receives a license in Washington and wishes to practice in another state should check that state's guidelines for transferring a license.
Nursing Licensing Costs in Washington
App Fee $120
State Requirements by Nursing Type
Aspiring RNs may enroll in nursing programs at the associate or bachelor's degree level. While a BSN leads to greater financial opportunities and advancement, RNs at the associate level can begin working sooner and return to school if they desire a BSN. Despite the educational route, Washington RNs should only consider accredited programs. Additionally, out-of-state and international students who plan to pursue a career in Washington should verify that their coursework meets state expectations.
The Washington State Department of Health provides separate examination applications for nurses trained through nontraditional, U.S., and international programs. Professionals who already hold a license may complete an endorsement application. All applications require candidates to provide documentation of program completion, a copy of their nurse board-approved license or certification, AIDS education and training attestation, NCLEX-RN exam scores, and a current criminal background check. First-time applicants pay $120, plus surcharge fees.
Candidates must also apply for the NCLEX-RN exam, which costs $200. Applicants obtain an authorization to test from the board of nursing regulatory body (BON/RB) and register with Pearson VUE. After passing the exam and earning a license, Washington RNs must renew their license each year by their birthday, which costs $120. Late applications require an additional $50. The Washington renewal process requires RNs to provide documentation of 531 active practice hours. Additionally, RNs must complete 45 hours of continuing education (CE), and licenses require renewal of CE requirements within three years.
In Washington, certified nursing assistants (CNAs) must complete 85 hours of training through programs vetted by the state. Prospective students for this type of nursing can find a list of programs on the Washington State Department website. Training should include coursework that teaches students the standards of practice in addition to pertinent skills and knowledge. Furthermore, all programs should include clinical experiences, which help graduates to gain meaningful experience performing standard duties at optimal levels.
All applicants must provide proof of training completion and examination results. Additionally, applicants must answer personal data questions and complete seven hours of HIV and AIDS training. Out-of-state CNAs may qualify for an endorsement if their training program meets state standards.
The Washington Nursing Commission requires CNAs to pass two exams to receive certification. Candidates may complete an application on the Pearson Vue Website and register for the National Nurse Aide Assessment Program (NNAAP). The two-hour exam covers the relevant content and skills needed to perform job duties as a CNA and contains 70 multiple choice questions that cover topics including physical care skills, psychosocial care skills, and the role of the nurse aide.
Students may choose to complete the oral exam instead of the written version, which includes 60 questions and 10 comprehension questions. The NNAAP exam also includes a skills evaluation, which considers 22 applicable skills that CNA professionals use to perform daily tasks, and examiners select five skills for test takers to perform within a 30-minute timeframe. The Washington NNAAP exam costs $110 until September, when it increases to $124.
Individuals considering a career as a licensed practical nurse (LPN) in Washington should reflect on their career objectives via the two pathways to obtain the required educational training and licensure in the state. State-approved LPN programs allow students to earn a diploma in as little as 12 months. However, students may also choose to earn an associate degree in 18-24 months, which includes prerequisite coursework that students can use to continue their education by completing a bachelor's degree in the future.
After successful completion of an educational program, LPNs must pass the Washington NCLEX-PN exam. Applicants must acquire an authorization to test from the BON/RB. The NCLEX-PN examines the specialized knowledge LPNs need to meet the demands of their clients. The exam costs $200, and international candidates may need to pay additional fees. The NCLEX-PN utilizes the computerized adaptive testing system, which administers questions based on the test taker's ability. All testees must answer at least 85 questions, while some may answer up to 205 within the five-hour test period.
LPNs must submit an application to the Washington State Department of Health for licensure. The application process requires candidates to complete a criminal background check and submit an $85 fee. Washington requires LPNs to renew their license annually on their birthday, which costs $85, and late renewal penalty fees cost an additional $50. Out-of-state professionals may qualify for an endorsement if their educational background and NCLEX-PN scores satisfy Washington nursing board standards.
To become an NP in Washington, candidates should possess a valid RN license and relevant professional experience to qualify for accredited nursing programs at the master's degree level. Students can complete their MSN in two years, but accelerated programs can shorten length requirements. Out-of-state students must ensure that their program meets the standards outlined by the Washington State Department of Health Nursing Commission.
Graduates need to obtain a national certification to qualify for licensure. As advanced practitioners, NPs specialize in different types of nursing. Therefore, NPs do not gain certification from the same boards. Viable nursing boards include the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, American Nurses Credentialing Center, American Association of Critical-Care Nurses, Pediatric Nurse Certification Board (PNCB), National Certification Corporation, or the National Board of Certification and Recertification for Nurse Anesthetists.
Part of the certification process requires professionals to pass specialized exams that assess the appropriate knowledge and skills needed to provide care for patients in the NP's target population. For instance, the PNCB exam takes three hours to complete and contains 175 multiple choice questions. The initial exam costs $295, while the renewal fee only costs $65. Professionals must renew this license annually, which requires 15 CE hours.
The initial advanced registered nurse practitioner (ARNP) application fee costs $125, despite prescriptive authority rights. Practitioners must renew their license each year on their birthday, and late applications require an additional $50 fee.
Career Outlook for Nurses in Washington
Healthcare and health services offer the largest industries in Washington and will continue to expand, as the BLS projects a 19.6% growth rate for RNs in Washington by 2024. For NPs, the BLS projects that over the next five years, the state will experience a 28% increase in the field. Considering the rapid growth of the healthcare industry, there has never been a better time to attend an online nursing school in Washington.
Employment Data for RNs in Washington
According to the BLS, current health trends highlight preventative care, leading to an increase in demand for skilled RNs. Furthermore, the rates of chronic conditions, including diabetes and cancer, continue to increase. Therefore, multiple institutions may want to hire additional RN professionals, as BLS data projects that RNs can anticipate a 15% growth in employment potential through 2026.
Currently, nearly 1.7 million RNs nationwide work in general medical and surgical hospitals. Other considerable industries include physicians offices, home health care services, nursing facilities, and outpatient care centers. These fields provide salaries ranging from $65,500-$75,500, while the average pay for all RN professionals rests at $70,000.
RNs might also want to consider industries offering the highest wages. Pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing, payroll service, the federal executive branch, schools, and the wholesale electronic market industries offer salaries that range from $83,000-$90,500 on average. While these industries hold financial appeal, they represent less than 1% of industry employment, which may increase job competition. RNs pursuing a career in Washington should explore state-specific data. BLS data indicates that Washington RNs earn above the national average at $79,810, and RNs in East Washington earn $90,400 on average.
Employment Data for CNAs in Washington
Many professionals entering the field of nursing use CNA certifications as a stepping stone to higher positions. Therefore, institutions often experience high turnover rates due to professionals advancing to new roles by continuing their education and gaining experience. Additionally, inflation in the elderly population drives the demand for CNA professionals who can provide specialized care.
The majority of CNAs work in nursing care facilities, and BLS data indicates that this industry accounts for nearly 600,000 jobs, paying $27,500 on average. Similarly, hospitals' need for CNA professionals continues to grow and offer better pay, as CNAs working in hospitals earn $30,640 on average. Other notable fields include continuing care communities, assisted living facilities, home health care services, and employment services.
On average, CNAs earn $27,510. However, the federal executive branch, facilities support services, scientific research and development services, educational support services, and higher education facilities offer some of the highest salaries, which range from $34,290-$38,340. Because these industries account for less than 1% of employment in this profession, applicants may experience higher competition. Washington CNAs may earn more in these roles, as the average CNA earns $30,410.
Employment Data for NPs in Washington
NPs often fulfill high-level tasks that reduce the need for physicians, such as administering prescriptions and managing other nursing professionals. The demand for skilled NPs continues to grow, and the BLS projects a 31% increase in the field through 2026.
Currently, the majority of NPs work in physicians' offices where they earn $105,730 on average. However, many practitioners work in general medical and surgical hospitals, outpatient care centers, offices of other health practitioners, and higher education institutions. These salaries range from $105,730-111,850 on average. While these industries offer the most opportunities, NPs can earn much more elsewhere, as practitioners in the personal care services field earn nearly $140,000 on average. Other notable fields include management, consulting services, religious organizations, and dentist's offices.
According to BLS data, most practitioners earn $101,710 on average. However, professionals pursuing a career in Washington can expect higher salaries, as practitioners typically earn $115,250. Spokane offers some of the highest levels of employment, where NPs earn $150,040 on average. Other notable cities with prime employment opportunities include Seattle, Bellevue, Everett, and Tacoma.
Hospitals in Washington
Hospitals often boast fellowship and internship opportunities that can help you gain practical experience while enrolled in nursing school. Large hospitals also offer job openings for recent nursing graduates. Read on for a few examples of some of Washington's hospitals.
- Swedish Medical Center: Swedish has served the Washington community and beyond for over 100 years. SMC boasts five hospitals as the largest nonprofit healthcare provider in the Seattle area and offers more than 100 primary care and specialty clinics in the Puget Sound area.
- Overlake Medical Center: This hospital, located in Bellevue, employs 2,500 people, including about 1,000 medical staff. The facility has 349 beds and includes the first Level III trauma center in the area. Overlake Medical Center prides itself on achieving regional and national recognition, making it an excellent hospital to start a career in nursing.
Additional Nursing Resources in Washington
- Washington State Nurses Association: This page provides information on nursing schools in Washington state, as well as on workshops and scholarships available to nursing students.
- Washington Center for Nursing: The WCN provides reports on the state of nursing in Washington, as well as important information on licensing, nursing organizations, and other healthcare organizations in the state.
- Nursing Students of Washington State: This organization supports students enrolled in Washington's nursing schools and provides resources on schools, scholarships, professional organizations, and an annual convention.
- ARNPS United of Washington State: A professional organization dedicated to supporting local NPs, ARNPs United of Washington state regularly posts nursing job openings.
- Nursing Care Quality Assurance Commission: This official Washington Nursing Commission resource provides nurses with access to current and past newsletters. Students in Washington's nursing schools can explore public health in the state, as well as other news pertinent to nurses.
Accredited Online Nursing Programs in Washington
With so many different nursing schools in Washington, it can be tough to decide where to get your online nursing degree. We include a database of key information on all online ADN, BSN, RN-to-BSN, DNP, and MSN programs in Washington below.