Registered Nurse Certification in How to Become an RN in Washington: Nursing License Application and Renewal Guide

In Washington, licensure for registered nurses (RNs) is handled at the state level and can take two to four years to complete, depending on the amount of schooling required for your preferred degree.

The average RN salary in Washington is higher than the national RN salary. Based on 2018 estimates from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), RNs in Washington made $82,670 per year and $38.55 per hour. While this wage is 15% higher than the national average, Washington stands in the middle of the pack compared to Oregon ($92,960) and Idaho ($69,480).

The BLS also predicts that the average growth rate of RNs is 12%, much faster than the average rate of all other industries. Specifically in Washington state, the number of RNs climbed 4% from 2016 to 2019.

Nursing Commission of the Washington State Department of Health

The Nursing Commission of the Washington State Department of Health handles RN licensing. Washington offers licenses for Advanced Registered Nurse Practitioners, Licensed Practical Nurses, Nursing Technicians, and Registered Nurses. To contact the commission, you can dial 360-236-4703 or email them at

Registered Nurse Education Requirements

To become a registered nurse in Washington, you must obtain a degree or diploma from an accredited school. The Nursing Commission oversees nursing education and refresher course programs in Washington, as well as certifications of registered nurses. There are various nursing schools in Washington state that provide nursing degrees.

As a nurse, you can choose between many degrees, including:

  • Associate Degree in Nursing: This two-year program prepares candidates to function in diverse healthcare settings as entry-level nurses.
  • Bachelor of Science in Nursing: BSN degree is a four-year program offered and develops management and leadership skills for improved nursing outcomes.
  • Direct Entry MSN Program: This program is designed for those candidates who have a bachelor degree but no nursing experience.
  • Accelerated BSN Degree: An accelerated BSN degree offers the fastest way for becoming an RN that normally lasts for 12-16 months. These programs are generally created for those students who already possess a bachelor’s degree, but in some other discipline.
  • LPN to RN: For nurses who have graduated from the practical nursing program and hold a current Washington State LPN license. Students, who successfully complete this program are entitled to an associate’s degree (ADN).
  • RN to BSN Program: This track is framed to create a pathway for registered nurses who hold a diploma or an associate degree in nursing and want to earn a baccalaureate degree with a perspective to rise professionally and academically.

Successful graduates from these programs are eligible to take the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN). The Nursing Commission looks to these national nursing education accreditation agencies for guidance:

RN Licensure by Examination

Those interested in becoming RNs must follow the licensing procedure detailed below. This process includes a state exam and fulfillment of education credentials. RNs who are licensed in another state or jurisdiction may need to follow the endorsement process detailed below.

Fingerprinting and Background Checks

All applicants must comply with an FBI background check including fingerprinting. The Nursing Commission will mail a fingerprint packet after receiving the application. After submitting the completed packets, the Washington State Patrol and the FBI conduct an investigation. If all other licensing requirements are met, the commission will issue a temporary license.

Approved Exams

In Washington, all aspiring RNs must complete an exam given by the NCLEX. The exam fee is a nonrefundable $200, and exams can be scheduled through Pearson VUE. Additionally, it is possible to prepare for the exam by using practice questions.

Applying to Take a Certification Exam

To apply for the certification exam, you must submit an application to Pearson VUE via an online testing portal. After receiving the authorization to test (ATT), you can schedule your exam. You must have your ATT to schedule an appointment. Each ATT is valid for an average of 90 days and contains the authorization number, candidate identification number, and expiration date.

Testing Vendors and Proctors

Testing for RNs is through Pearson VUE, an online testing agent. Many industries can post their certification exams through this site to allow for easy access and convenience.

Applying for Licensure

Applications for licensure must be submitted through the Department of Health’s online portal.

RN Licensure by Endorsement (Out of State Applicants)

Licensure by endorsement is an option for applicants already licensed in another state. To apply for licensure by endorsement in Washington, RNs must:

  • Submit an application;
  • Verify their initial license;
  • Verify employment hours;
  • Submit school transcripts;
  • Complete an English proficiency exam;
  • And complete an FBI background check.

RN License Renewal

RNs in Washington must renew their license on their birthday. Before renewing, RNs must complete their continuing competency hours and a registration and survey from e-Notify. Renewal fees are as follows:

  • $120 renewal fee;
  • $16 surcharge to access the University of Washington website;
  • $5 nursing center surcharge.

Continuing Education Requirements

All licensed nurses must meet minimum continuing education requirements to maintain licensure. In Washington, RNs are required to document 531 hours of active practice and 45 hours of continuing education every three years. The Nursing Commission sends RNs a renewal notice 90 days before their license expires.

Washington Nursing License Verification

The Washington State Department of Health offers a license verification tool for users to ensure the licensure of RNs.

quick RN guide links