A crucial component of the healthcare community, nurses fill a vital role caring for patients in hospitals, residential care facilities, and ambulatory healthcare centers nationwide. Nursing professionals function as a necessary part of the healthcare system, in demand for their diverse specialty skills in areas like critical care, neonatology, midwifery, and geriatrics. Nurses typically enjoy a high level of job security even in an unstable economy, and the BLS projects a 15% job growth for registered nurses (RNs) by 2026.
In Wisconsin, an online nursing degree delivers an especially lucrative prospect for students looking to practice locally after graduation. RNs make up the largest sector of nursing occupations in the state, earning an annual average salary of $69,200. However, a 2016 workforce report conducted by the Wisconsin Hospital Association noted the high demand for skilled RNs in the region, as many nurses began aging out of the field at the same time the Affordable Care Act exponentially drove up healthcare staffing demands over the last five years.
How to Become a Nurse in Wisconsin
To become a nurse in Wisconsin, students can expect to undergo a process similar to that of nurses nationwide, but with a few minor differences. Wisconsin requires unique licensing exam fees, carries its own individual prerequisites for certifications, and holds state-specific renewal requirements. The Board of Nursing, a division of the state's Department of Safety and Professional Services, awards licensure for nurses and nurse specialists in Wisconsin.
1. Choosing the Right Path for You
Students can find online nursing degrees at every level of study and for every career ambition. Students who do not want an RN credential may pursue licensed practical nurse (LPN) programs, though not especially popular due to a lack of demand and earning potential for LPNs in the workforce. Students must complete an associate degree in nursing (ADN) or a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) degree in order to sit for the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) for RNs; the BSN remains the most popular path for meeting this minimum field requirement. Nurses aspiring to enter a specialty field as an advanced practice nurse prescriber (APNP) must earn a master's degree or higher from a nursing school in Wisconsin before pursuing national certification in their area of specialty. Research and scholarly positions, including college nursing professors, typically require a doctor of nursing practice degree (DNP).
2. Earn Your Nursing Degree
Wisconsin offers a variety of online and accelerated nursing programs for working students or those looking to take a nontraditional path to a career in nursing. While requirements vary, most online nursing degrees offer students the opportunity to complete necessary clinicals, internships, and fellowships at a convenient location near their residence while completing the remainder of coursework online. Depending on the level of degree you pursue, nursing schools in Wisconsin typically require prerequisite nursing courses and/or a prior degree for admission and may take 1-4 years to complete online.
3. Pass the Licensing Exam and Earn Your License
Though study habits and routines vary from student to student, you should plan to study for the NCLEX exam in Wisconsin at least two months in advance. Many external tutoring services offer NCLEX preparation programs for aspiring nurses; however, most online nursing degrees in LPN and RN tracks prepare students for the NCLEX exam. The exam takes five hours to complete. The NCLEX exam requires a testing fee of $200, with additional fees for earning the "initial credential" and for optional pre-registration or temporary permit. Passing the exam does not guarantee employment in the industry; however, it will ensure you meet state criteria for nursing jobs in your area.
Nursing Licensure in Wisconsin
Two primary types of exams grant licensure to nurses in Wisconsin: the NCLEX-LPN and the NCLEX-RN. Aspiring LPNs need only two years of high school education or the equivalent to qualify to sit for the NCLEX-LPN exam in Wisconsin. Students must hold an associate or bachelor's degree in nursing to take the NCLEX-RN exam, which is required of all RNs in order to provide day-to-day care of patients and supervise LPNs in the state. As a member of the nurse licensure compact, Wisconsin requires new residents who hold nursing licensure in another compact state to obtain licensure in Wisconsin within 30 days; if not permanently relocating to Wisconsin, they can maintain residence in another state and practice in Wisconsin indefinitely. Nurses licensed in non-compact states may practice in Wisconsin for 72 hours before applying for licensure by endorsement (for a longer stay). Wisconsin-licensed nurses should consult the licensure guidelines of other states if they plan to practice outside of their resident jurisdiction.
While the NCLEX-RN functions as the primary credential needed for RNs pursuing entry-level positions in Wisconsin, students pursuing advanced nursing positions in a specialized field will need to seek additional certification in their concentration of choice. Earning the APNP credential enables RNs to prescribe medications and further qualifies nurse practitioners (NPs), certified nurse midwives, clinical nurse specialists, and certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs) to practice in these respective specialties. They must also take a jurisprudence exam to test their knowledge of state laws and mandates. While the Board of Nursing administers the NCLEX to aspiring practitioners in this state, various national agencies govern additional APNP credentialing exams, depending on specialization.
State Requirements by Nursing Type
The Wisconsin Board of Nursing publishes lists of pre-approved nursing schools within the state and outside the borders. Nursing graduates from approved schools can send their licensing applications to the board through the online system. Recent graduates who did not attend these schools must complete printed applications, send DSPS Form #259, and submit official transcripts. The board requires online and mail-in applications to include payments of $82 for fees. Nursing candidates must submit fingerprint cards and consent to background checks as well. Graduates who want temporary licenses pay additional $10 fees and submit form #2434.
Recent nursing graduates register separately for the NCLEX-RN licensing exam. These candidates pay $200 for the exam fee. When both the board of nursing and the NCLEX-RN organization approve an applicant, the tester receives authorization and can then schedule an exam time. Most nursing candidates take the NCLEX-RN in computer-based testing centers with computerized adaptive testing. This software adjusts the difficulty of questions to each candidate to more accurately assess the tester's ability.
RNs with active licenses in other states can apply to work in Wisconsin. Nurses holding multi-state licenses through the Enhanced Nurse Licensure Compact (eNLC) can work in the state without any further applications. Other out-of-state nurses can apply for licensure through endorsement. On February 28 of even-numbered years, RN licenses expire. Nurses must complete online surveys and forms to stay current.
The Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) approves certified nursing assistant (CNA) programs in several institutions, including high schools, universities, technical colleges, hospitals, and nursing homes. First-time CNA candidates must complete a pre-approved training program before applying to take the licensing exam. Learners can work in nursing homes for 120 days as they complete approved training programs. Once students complete training programs, the facilities enter their information into the TestMaster University (TMU) system for DHS to review. Once DHS approves an application, the department sends a letter to the candidate with testing information. Only then can CNA hopefuls schedule exams. During these tests, learners answer multiple choice questions and demonstrate their skills for proctors. Candidates gain eligibility after passing their exams for the nurse aide registry. Professionals must demonstrate ability to perform CNA duties without RN supervision.
Students who hold fewer than 120 hours of CNA training from programs in other states take bridge programs before transferring to Wisconsin, even if they are licensed. To apply for bridge programs, candidates must submit to the Pearson VUE registry and provide copies of their certifications. DHS only accepts transfer candidates who worked at least 2,088 hours in the two years leading up to the application. Licensed CNAs from other states whose exam or training did not match Wisconsin standards use the same system. Active CNAs from states with standards that meet DHS requirements can apply to transfer without further training. CNAs must work at least eight hours every two years and submit applications to renew their licenses.
The nursing board provides LPN hopefuls with lists of approved LPN schools in the state, nursing schools outside Wisconsin, and the NCLEX-PN passing rates for a few in-state institutions. Graduates from these schools apply online for permission to take the licensing exam. First-time LPN license applicants who did not attend schools on the list must submit transcripts and send completed copies of DSPS Form #259 when they apply to take the exam. All new graduates consent to background checks and fingerprinting when they apply. The application costs $182; however, veterans and individuals who meet certain income requirements can waive this fee.
Once candidates submit their applications to the board, they register with Pearson VUE for the NCLEX-PN and pay the $200 examination fee. Waivers for the board of nursing application do not apply to the Pearson VUE fee. If both Pearson VUE and the nursing board approve a candidate, the board sends a notice of eligibility. At that time, the applicant schedules the exam. Similar to the RN exam, the NCLEX-PN uses computerized adaptive testing that quickly identifies if a candidate's skills sit significantly above or below average. Testers who pass the exam earn LPN licenses.
Because Wisconsin participates in the eNLC, active LPN professionals and those in other types of nursing, such as RNs, can easily transfer to Wisconsin facilities. Nurses from other eNLC states who hold multi-state licenses can work in the Badger State without any further approval. Other LPNs apply for licensure by endorsement. On April 30 of odd-numbered years, LPN licenses expire unless candidates renew online.
Wisconsin gives all advanced practice nurses the same application instructions, including CRNAs and nurse midwives. The state requires NPs to complete graduate degrees in nursing or related medical fields. While the board does not publish a list of approved schools, NP applicants can choose from any regionally accredited institution that holds approval from its governing state. After graduation, applicants must earn national certifications in their desired advanced practice fields. NPs must also hold active Wisconsin RN licenses to practice. Applicants can apply for licenses in both types of nursing simultaneously. This policy is particularly helpful for nurses with RN licenses in another state and first-time NP candidates.
Nurses who meet these requirements send their applications, evidence of meeting each of the conditions, statement of malpractice insurance, and proof that they completed at least 45 contact hours of pharmacology training in the preceding five years to the board. The fee for this application is $182, but veterans and low-income individuals can obtain waivers. The minimum malpractice insurance requirements include $1 million per occurrence and $3 million per year. NPs who carry coverage under group policies or work under the supervision of doctors can waive this requirement. Any NP who may need to prescribe controlled substances must also apply with the federal Drug Enforcement Agency.
NP licenses expire on October 1 of even-numbered years. To remain eligible for renewal, NPs must complete 16 contact hours of pharmacology training in the two years leading up to the expiration date.
Career Outlook for Nurses in Wisconsin
Wisconsin nurses experienced a noted upswing in favorable job conditions, especially those in specialized areas. A study conducted by the BLS in 2017 reports that nurse anesthetists in Wisconsin represent both the second-smallest employment and the highest earners among nursing professionals in the state, earning $191,730 per year. RNs outnumber all other nursing specialties in Wisconsin, with more than 55,000 Wisconsinites employed in this area, thus pulling in only a moderate salary due to a lack of competition and specialized skills.
Employment Data for RNs in Wisconsin
The BLS reports that the mean wage for RNs in the country is $73,550 per year. In Wisconsin, RNs make slightly below average with a mean of $69,200 yearly. While the overall wages tend to be lower in Wisconsin than other areas, nurses should also consider the cost of living: In the Green Bay metropolitan area, for example, people pay about 9% less for good and services. Housing costs 19% less in this area as well. Some RNs in the Badger State bring home smaller paychecks than others in the nation, but they possess higher standards of living overall.
The local region and employer type can affect how much an RN makes. These professionals earn $78,910 in Madison and $81,510 in Minneapolis each year, on average. RNs across the country make more than the average when they work in government agencies and hospitals. Those in the pharmaceutical industry hold the highest average with $90,510 annually. The BLS projects 15% employment growth for RNs by 2026, which is faster than the economy as a whole.
Employment Data for CNAs in Wisconsin
Unlike other types of nursing, like RNs and NPs, CNAs in Wisconsin earn more than the national average. The BLS reports that the mean annual wage for CNAs across the country is $28,540. Meanwhile, the 33,230 CNAs in Wisconsin hold an average yearly salary of $28,830. CNAs earn higher wages depending on their location of employment. For example, the highest-paid CNAs work for federal agencies, facilities support services, and scientific research labs; however, candidates should note that these jobs are rarer than most. Roughly 36% of CNAs work in skilled nursing facilities, which pay about the same as the average.
CNAs in the Fond du Lac, Green Bay, and La Crosse-Onalaska areas earn mean salaries above the state average. The BLS projects CNA jobs to grow 11% by 2026. Across the country, this growth creates 173,400 CNA positions. This expansion is significantly faster than the overall projected employment growth rate, but slower than rates for other types of nursing. The BLS reports that many new CNA jobs come from skilled nursing facilities and long-term care centers due to the aging population and increasing reliance on government-funded facilities.
Employment Data for NPs in Wisconsin
The BLS reports an average annual salary of $107,480 for NPs throughout the country. However, Wisconsin NPs earn $101,930 each year on average. Like with other types of nursing, each metropolitan area has its own average, which can help NPs better understand their earning potentials. Some regions in Wisconsin employ NPs at much higher wages than the national average. For example, the average NP in Wausau earns $115,290 annually, and the mean salary sits at $116,410 in Duluth. On the other end of the spectrum, NPs in Green Bay, Madison, and Sheboygan earn under $100,000 per year, on average.
NPs who work in hospitals, outpatient care centers, and physician offices bring home above-average salaries. NPs who go into management and consulting earn national average salaries of $132,200 per year. As the demand for healthcare rises and more patients respect NPs as providers, the BLS projects the demand for these professionals to increase 36% by 2026. This rapid expansion adds 211,600 NP positions across the country. Some NPs become part owners or top executives for physician offices and healthcare companies. Chief executives earn about $145,280 each year in Wisconsin.
Biggest Hospitals in Wisconsin
Nursing schools in Wisconsin depend on local hospitals and healthcare facilities to support field experiences for students in training. Larger hospitals offer more diverse clinical and internship opportunities for students earning an online nursing degree. These facilities also require a larger staff to serve patients, which means greater employment opportunities for recent graduates. Online nursing graduates in Wisconsin might want to take a closer look at two of the state's largest hospitals, Aurora St. Luke's Medical Center and Froedtert Hospital, listed below.
- Aurora St. Luke’s Medical Center South Shore: Wisconsin's Aurora Health Care system consists of 15 hospitals and more than 150 clinics in eastern Wisconsin and northern Illinois. The Aurora St. Luke's Medical Center South Shore location in Milwaukee contains more staffed beds than any other facility in the area and employs 1,169 full-time RNs. Employment through Aurora remains a popular choice for graduates of online nursing degrees in all specialties, as the system needs nurses of all kinds to fill positions at numerous locations across the state.
- Froedtert Hospital: Froedtert, another comprehensive state healthcare system, encompasses three major hospitals and more than 20 health centers and clinics in nearly every county through a partnership with Medical College of Wisconsin. Froedtert also recently acquired the United Hospital System, adding even more locations and providers to its network. The hospital boasts diverse employment opportunities for recent graduates of online nursing programs in Wisconsin. Froedtert contains 516 staffed beds and 1,268 full-time RNs at the Wauwatosa location alone.
Additional Nursing Resources in Wisconsin
- Wisconsin Nurses Association: The largest professional association of its kind in the state, Wisconsin Nurses Association serves as the parent organization of nine other groups targeting specialty areas of nursing, councils for workforce advocacy and public policy in nursing, and environmental and faith-related nursing support. As this state's division of the American Nursing Association (ANA), the WNA grants dual membership in the ANA and provides benefits including continuing education courses, free webinars, and access to the ANA Career Center.
- Wisconsin Nurses Coalition: The Wisconsin Nurses Coalition joins together all other member organizations for nurses in the state, including the WNA, the Wisconsin Association of Clinical Nurse Specialists, and the Wisconsin Center for Nursing. The WNC is intended to strengthen the collective voice of nurses in Wisconsin through interorganizational meetings, hearings, and a public forum.
- Wisconsin Association of Clinical Nurse Specialists: The WIACNS supports the needs of clinical nurses in Wisconsin. This organization does not require membership dues to join and comprises 100 members, with a committee of five elected officials at the helm. The organization centers on providing professional education and advocacy opportunities for clinical specialists in order to improve operations and policy in skilled nursing areas of the healthcare field. Current initiatives include raising awareness of the need for skilled APRNs in the state and developing a cloud-based medical records storage system for local patients.
- Wisconsin Center for Nursing: The Wisconsin Center for Nursing reinforces the nursing workforce in the state through professional training and continuing education programs, fundraising efforts, and advocacy initiatives. The WCN constantly searches for new methods of improving education options for nursing students, ensuring they can maximize their employment opportunities in the state by demonstrating advanced skills in their field of expertise. The WCN compiles comprehensive data on Wisconsin's nursing workforce through reports and surveys and offers students helpful links to nursing education resources in their area.
- Wisconsin Organization of Nurse Executives: WONE is a unique organization for nurses interested in assuming a leadership or advocacy position within the industry. WONE encompasses a variety of committees and encourages membership in various areas of executive nursing. Members may attend meetings or the organization's annual conference, or they may join a committee focused on legislative policy reform, professional development, or communications. The organization also offers mentorship opportunities.
Accredited Online Nursing Programs in Wisconsin
Nursing professionals may take a variety of paths toward obtaining their online nursing degree. To address all levels of program options for aspiring nurses in this particular region of the Midwest, we compiled a list of all accredited ADN, BSN, RN-to-BSN, MSN, and DNP online programs offered by nursing schools in Wisconsin.