By Alex McCoy, Contributing Writer, Owner of Fit Travel Life
I was unknowingly blessed as a new travel nurse because I chose to start traveling in my home state. I was testing the waters and wasn’t quite ready to venture out while my husband finished grad school.
I did go through the process of applying for my New York and Kansas licenses after a few months. I was still lucky in a sense because I knew that even if these did not come through in time, I would be able to look for jobs in my home state or several surrounding states thanks to my compact license status. I was not constantly worried about if I needed to fork out money for a new license, or if I would be limited by the one or two licenses I had in hand.
The enhanced Nurse Licensure Compact (NLC) was established in 2018 as an expansion of the previous Nurse Licensure Compact and is an agreement for license reciprocity between states that are a member of the compact. If your primary state of residence is listed as a compact state, that means you can practice in any of the listed states without having to apply for a new license in each state.
This has been such a huge benefit to my travel nurse journey that I have even advised people living close to compact state lines to consider relocating, especially if they plan on traveling for several years. The benefits of traveling with a nursing compact license are extensive, and many states that are part of the compact have low costs of living.
Benefit #1: No fees between nursing compact license states.
An individual state license can cost upwards of $350 after basic fees, fingerprinting, and Nursys verifications. If you travel between compact states, all of these fees are irrelevant. You simply prove your primary license is in a compact state and you are safe to practice under that license in a state with reciprocity.
Even if you request compensation from your company for these fees, most of the time you will still pay up front and be reimbursed. Very few companies offer direct payment for licensing fees unless there is confirmation of a strike or other critical need.
Benefit #2: You can submit ASAP to jobs in other compact states.
In some compact states, it can take four or more weeks to get a single-state license. Travel nursing jobs typically open and close within a day or two, so most hiring managers are not willing to wait on a license to come through and will just select another nurse instead.
The majority of nursing jobs are listed as “license in hand” which means you have to have proof of an active license to even be submitted. With a nursing compact license, a recruiter can submit you instantly for a job you are interested in, which can put you ahead of the competition.
Benefit #3: Less licenses to maintain.
Although having multiple state licenses can make you more valuable as a traveler, it can also be costly and time consuming to maintain. Each state has its own set of fees and continuing education required to renew a nursing license. Some states even require yearly renewal, which can add up quickly.
By having a nursing compact license, you only have to maintain your primary license. I only have to renew my Missouri license every two years. As an added benefit, Missouri does not require continuing education, so I simply pay the fee and have an active license in 31 states.
Benefit #4: As each new state joins, your options for travel are expanded.
During my three years as a travel nurse I have seen Florida, Kansas, and Louisiana join the compact. According to the compact map, there is also the potential for Washington, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and New Jersey to join.
Assuming all of these states pass legislation to join, in the next year or two I could be able to practice as a nurse in almost 40 states. This opens up so many avenues for travelers and will make holding a compact license an even more powerful tool as more states join the compact.
So what if I don’t live in a nursing compact license state?
I recommend looking into how feasible it could be for you to maintain residency in a compact state prior to becoming a travel nurse. It may sound a little complicated, but if you travel for several years and plan on going to multiple states it could save you thousands of dollars on state licensing fees alone.
This would require a tax home in that state, which you can learn more about here. If you live in border cities like Kansas City or St. Louis this could be as simple as moving 20 minutes down the road. For others people, it could be a little more complicated.
If you are interested in specifics on how to legally obtain a compact license if you move, be sure to check out the FAQ page on the NLC’s website.
Regardless of your residence or if you choose to travel, this is something to keep an eye on as laws are being made in your home state. Pay attention to local politics and discussions about interstate licensing so if the issue does come to a vote in your area you can make an educated decision. Compact licenses are a valuable tool for nurses and are something we should all know about, even if it doesn’t apply to those of us working permanent jobs.
Alex McCoy currently works as a pediatric travel nurse. She has a passion for health and fitness, which led her to start Fit Travel Life in 2016. She travels with her husband, their cat, Autumn and their dog, Summer. She enjoys hiking, lifting weights, and trying the best local coffee and wine.
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