How to become a nurse in Florida

female nurse works with elderly patient
female nurse works with elderly patient

The Sunshine State is a great place to start or continue your nursing career. Florida has the fourth highest number of nurses in the United States and this is expected to climb even higher—especially given the state’s aging population.

We’ll cover exactly what you need to know to become a nurse in Florida so that you can begin your education and career path and give care to those who need it.  

5 steps to becoming a nurse in Florida

Becoming a nurse in Florida starts with education and ends once you get your Florida nursing license application approved. Keep in mind that in order to maintain your licensure, you’ll need to either complete continuing education courses, or consecutively practice nursing in the state of Florida.

Choose a path and finish an accredited degree program.

male nurse with half in nursing school graduation gown

Nursing is a diverse field. You can become a certified nursing assistant, registered nurse, or advanced practice nurse—it all depends on your goals and where you’re interested in.
Once you understand what kind of nursing career you want to have, you’ll need to apply to a nursing degree program. Some programs can take as little as two years, but if you want to earn an advanced or more specialized degree, it may take up to six years to do so. Regardless of the degree you choose to earn, make sure you check that your desired program is accredited by the Florida Board of Nursing. If your program is not accredited, you won’t be able to earn a license in the state.

Earn your license in an entry-level nursing field.

three masked nurses sitting together talking

You might consider one of these nursing careers to get started:

Certified nursing assistant in Florida

To earn a Certified Nursing Assistant state license, you will need to either:
• Earn the minimum score, established by rule of the board, on the nursing assistant competency examination.
• Have a high school diploma, or its equivalent
• Be at least 18 years of age.
• Complete the curriculum developed under the Enterprise Florida Jobs and Education Partnership Grant and achieve a minimum score.
• Complete a background screening.

However, you don’t need to have completed a state-approved training program is not required before taking an exam. You can become a CNA by endorsement if:

• You pass the required background screening
• You are currently certified in another state or territory in the U.S. or D.C.

Licensed practical nurse (LPN) and registered nurse (RN) in Florida

The process of becoming a Florida licensed practical nurse and registered nurse is the same. If you don’t hold a license from a different state or place, you’ll need to:
• Graduate from a Florida approved or accredited nursing education program.
• Apply for licensure.
• Take and pass the NCLEX exam.
If you have a license from a different state, it’s likely you’ll be able to bypass taking the exam, so long as your education is accredited by the Florida Board and your existing license is current. International applicants must demonstrate proficiency in English as well as a passing NCLEX score.

Find a nursing job in Florida.

smiling male nurse consoles elderly male patient

Like most states, nurses in Florida can work in a variety of different environments, including but not limited to:
• Assisted living facilities
• Corporations
• Clinics
• Hospitals
• Military bases
• Non-profits
• Nursing homes
• Medical private practices
• Schools

If you’re looking for a nursing job in Florida, try looking for work in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach or Gainesville areas. These areas have the eighth highest employment rate in the entire country, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the highest population of registered nurses in the state.

Renew your registration every two years.

nurse registers patient at check in desk

No matter what area of nursing you’re working in, you’ll need to renew your license every two years, and meet some education requirements. According to the Florida Board of Nursing, here are the basics for each area:

CNA: In order to renew your license at the end of the two year renewal cycle, you’ll be required to perform nursing-related services for monetary compensation within the last 24 consecutive months.

LPN: You’ll need to meet the CEU requirements, apply for renewal and pay the renewal fees. There are some exemptions for military, volunteer health services and public school LPN personnel.

RN: Just like LPNs, you’ll need to meet the CEU requirements, apply for renewal and pay the renewal fees. There are also some exemptions for military, volunteer health services and public school RN personnel.

Keep up with continuing education and practice.

nurses in class hands typing on laptop keyboard

At the time of your license renewal, you’ll need to have recorded your CE units into the portal Flordia nurses are all required to take a set number of hours, including a one-time HIV/AIDs course which must be completed and reported prior to your first renewal.

Getting an RN license in Florida

The steps to becoming a registered nurse in Florida depend on if you have a nursing license from another state already or not.

If you do not have a nursing license from any other state, country, or territory, you will need to submit an application to the Florida Board of Nursing as a “Registered Nurse by Examination.” Applications can be filled out online, and there is an application fee of $110 USD. Applications are processed in the order that they’re received. The typical turnaround time for processing is 13-15 days.

Once your application is processed, you’ll be able to register for the NCLEX exam and get fingerprinted. Licenses are typically issued 7-10 days after you’re notified that you’ve passed the exam.   

If you already have a nursing license from another state, you can apply for a Florida state license so long as:

  • Your prior nursing education is deemed acceptable by the board and you’ve passed either the NCLEX or SBTPE exam
  • You’ve already been practicing as a nurse for the past two years and have no criminal history nor have you had your license acted against in any jurisdiction
  • For international applicants, you will need either the above to be true, as well as demonstrate your English proficiency through an exam.

If you want to become a registered nurse (RN), your two main options are to pursue either an associate degree in nursing (ADN) or a bachelor’s of science in nursing (BSN), which take around two and four years to complete, respectively.

“Each school will have varying prerequisite courses and GPA requirements for their nursing program. For example, our traditional BSN program requires pre-professional coursework in subjects such as human nutrition, microbiology and anatomy and physiology,” wrote Dr. Anna M. McDaniel, Dean and Linda Harman Aiken Chair at the University of Florida’s College of Nursing, in an email.

“Once admitted to a nursing program, in-class coursework and on-site clinical experiences are completed in a healthcare setting. These clinicals are an opportunity to apply what is taught in the classroom setting and put your nursing knowledge to the test and help care for patients. After clinicals begin, several hundred hours of clinicals may be required before your program’s graduation requirements are fulfilled.”

Continuing education requirements

All Florida-licensed LPNs, RNs and APRNs need to complete 24-26 hours of continuing education every two years. The following courses are required: 

  • 2 hours on medical error prevention
  • 2 hours on the laws and rules related to nursing
  • 2 hours on human trafficking
  • 1 hour on HIV/AIDS (this is now a one-time course that needs to be completed before your first renewal only)
  • 2 hours in recognizing impairment in the workplace (this needs to be completed every 4 years instead of every 2)
  • 2 hours on domestic violence every third renewal (every 6 years)

Nurses who are certified by an accredited health care specialty program are exempt from continuing education requirements, with the exception of the human trafficking and safe prescription of controlled substance courses.

Nurses who hold both an RN and APRN license can use the same credits toward both licenses.

You can use college courses to get credit for continuing education, so long as they’re not general education courses. Be sure to keep transcripts and/or records of assignments of grades you receive in any course you take—you’ll need them for when you fill out your renewal application.

“Nurses can earn continuing education units (CEUs) through a number of different ways, including attending in-person or online courses, webinars, professional conferences and clinical workshops. All CEUs need to be state-approved/accredited by a professional nursing association, school or employer,” McDaniel said.

How long does it take to become a nurse in Florida?

The timelines for obtaining a license varies by state. In Florida, the timeline looks roughly like the below:

Earn a degree from an accredited program: 2-6 years.
In Florida, you can become a nurse with an associates degree, which takes two years to complete. However, employers are increasingly favoring candidates with bachelor’s degrees.
Apply for licensure: A few hours.
You can apply for your license online in an hour or two.
Wait for feedback: Within 30 days.
Depending on what type of license you’re applying for and whether or not you need to test, you’ll hear back from the Florida Board within no more than 30 days.
Take your required exam (if any): Within 90 days of test approval.
After you get approval to test, you must take the NCLEX exam within 90 days.
Get fingerprinted: Within 90 days of applying.
Similar to testing, you must also get fingerprinted at an approved location within 90 days of applying.
Get notified that you passed the NCLEX: 6 weeks.
Once you take the NCLEX exam, you may be able to see if you passed within 48 hours after taking it. However, these are usually “unofficial” results. Official results typically take six weeks to receive.
Receive your license: 7-10 days after passing the NCLEX.
You will receive your license in the mail 7-10 days after the Board receives word that you passed the exam.

Registered nurses who complete a bachelor’s degree program in nursing usually take the NCLEX exam within 45 days after graduating, meaning they receive their licenses after approximately four years and three months of beginning their studies.

Should I get an ADN or BSN?

McDaniel said that while both ADN and BSN programs enable an individual to take the NLCEX licensure exam and practice nursing in Florida, they have several key differences.

“BSN nurses receive a significantly more in-depth education compared to ASN-prepared nurses. They are exposed to curriculum that emphasizes critical thinking, evidence-based practice, research and leadership to practice at a higher level of competence,” McDaniel said. “BSN-prepared nurses have access to opportunities in more advanced health care settings, such as nurse administrator and nurse manager positions, as well as specialized environments, such as informatics, operating room and critical care nursing.”

McDaniel also said that hospital systems are growing to prefer the BSN credential in job applicants at their time of hire. “For example, our health system, UF Health, requires all nurses hired after April 30, 2014 without a BSN to obtain a BSN within three years of hire.”

Is Florida a compact state?

First, what is a compact state?

The Nurse Licensure Compact (NLC) authorizes nurses to practice in all participating states.

Compact states are states that have agreed to let nurses practice across state lines, so long as they hold a compact state nursing license.

Does Florida honor compact state nursing licenses?

Yes, Florida is a compact state. To get a compact state nursing license, you must show proof of residency in a compact state, whether that’s Florida or another state.

Job outlook

Employment of registered nurses across the nation is expected to grow 5.6% through 2032, about as fast as average across all occupations according to the BLS.

However, Florida’s aging population and popularity amongst retirees means there’s a high demand for nurses. Registered nurse job postings in Florida are expected to grow 15% over the next five years.

“The State of Florida has recognized the need for new nurses,” McDaniel said. “An effort by Florida lawmakers has allocated dedicated funding to schools of nursing in all state universities to address the nursing shortage by meeting our growing demand for baccalaureate-prepared nurses, nurse practitioners and nurse scientists.

“Our own college recently received $3.6 million in state funding, which we plan to use this year to expand our enrollment at our Jacksonville campus by 50% in and increase enrollment at the home campus in Gainesville by over 15%. We also expect to increase our faculty resources and strengthen our support of graduate and undergraduate students who have unmet financial needs to increase the number of well-prepared nurses we move into the workforce.”

Median annual salaries for Florida nurses

Take a look at average annual salaries in the state of Florida according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The range, from the lowest 10% to the highest 90% is $61,190–$100,060. This is relatively low compared to other populous states in the nation, like California, New York and Pennsylvania, but Florida also has a comparatively lower cost of living.

Here are median RN salaries in the state and metropolitan areas:

Registered Nurses
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Median Hourly Wage$37

Job growth5.6%

Total Employment197,630

Metro area Median Salary Bottom 10% Top 10%
North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton, FL $80,670 $62,420 $96,970
Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach, FL $79,870 $62,300 $103,020
Naples-Immokalee-Marco Island, FL $79,820 $62,800 $101,770
Sebastian-Vero Beach, FL $79,190 $61,480 $99,200
Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, FL $78,830 $63,130 $98,320
Jacksonville, FL $78,420 $61,980 $98,910
Cape Coral-Fort Myers, FL $77,920 $61,860 $97,530
Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford, FL $76,970 $62,620 $100,120
Gainesville, FL $76,600 $62,150 $98,750
Punta Gorda, FL $75,970 $55,430 $94,350

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) 2022 median salary; projected job growth through 2032. Actual salaries vary depending on location, level of education, years of experience, work environment, and other factors. Salaries may differ even more for those who are self-employed or work part time.

Requirements for foreign-educated nurses

In addition to passing the NCLEX and applying for your nursing license, registered nurses educated outside of the United States must prove competency in English. Unless your nursing coursework and textbooks were in English, which would make you exempt, you must meet one of the following:

  • Minimum score of 540 on the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) Exam.
  • Minimum score of 55—and a minimum speaking score of 55%— on the Michigan English Test (MET)
  • Minimum score of 6.5 overall—and a 7.0 on the spoken portion—on the academic version of the International English Testing System (IELTS)
  • Minimum score of 300 on the Occupational English Test (OET)

Ensure you look at Florida’s requirements for international nurses to confirm that you meet all of the requirements.

Find out how to become a nurse in your state

The process of becoming a nurse is different depending on the state in which you are seeking licensure. Each state has different requirements and standards that you should be aware of.

Here are some of the top nursing states in the U.S. and the steps to become a nurse in each:

Useful organizations to know

For Florida nursing students

Becoming a nurse in Florida is a rewarding process—and you don’t have to go it alone. Below are a few helpful resources you can take advantage of to help while you’re a student, and later, to advance your career:

Florida Nursing Student Association: Meet other aspiring nurses, attend workshops, and gain leadership opportunities with this student-run organization.

Florida Nurses Association: Attend conferences and webinars to advance your career, find a new job, and network with other nursing professionals across the state.

List of accredited nursing programs by the Florida State Board: Check to see if your program or desired program is accredited.

For Florida nurses

If you’re looking to practice as a nurse in Florida, the main governing body in the state is the Florida Board of Nursing. There are also several more specific professional organizations you can look into joining which are:

mimi polner

Written and reported by:

Emily Polner

Contributing Writer

anna mcdaniel

With professional insight from:

Dr. Anna M. McDaniel, PhD, RN, FAAN, Dean and Linda Harman Aiken Chair

University of Florida College of Nursing