How to become a nurse in Virginia

virginia nurse standing with arms folded
virginia nurse standing with arms folded

The process of becoming a nurse in Virginia is similar to many other places in the country, but like other states, Virginia too has its own minor differences. The Virginia Board of Nursing (VBON) is responsible for licensing nurses in the state and should be consulted regarding any licensing questions. It’s always important to research the licensing process where you live so that you can efficiently begin your nursing career.

“Virginia’s nursing landscape is full of opportunities. Whether you’re a new nurse or you’re a seasoned nurse or anywhere in the healthcare continuum, there is an opportunity,” said Dr. Heather Gable, Dean of Centra College in Lynchburg, Virginia. 

Start your nursing career in Virginia in 6 steps

Graduate from an approved nursing program.

nurse holding small graduation cap

If you want to be a registered nurse (RN) in Virginia, you’ll first need to graduate from an approved nursing program. This can be either an associate degree in nursing (ADN), a bachelor’s of science in nursing (BSN) or in some cases an accelerated bachelor’s of science in nursing (ABSN). You must have a high school diploma or equivalent education such as a GED in order to be admitted to nursing programs. RN applicants in Virginia must complete a minimum of 500 direct client care hours across the lifespan—this will most likely be completed as part of your education program, but important to keep in mind before you apply for licensure. If you earn your nursing degree outside of Virginia, you must include evidence of clinical hours broken down for each course along with your official transcript as part of your licensure application.

Submit an RN licensure application.

Nurse scrolling on ipad

After or as you are nearing graduation, it’s time to submit your online application for licensure to the Board of Nursing. Paying a $190 fee is required as part of the application ($170 for licensed practical nurses or LPNs).

Complete a background check.

Nurse writing on clipboard with pen

After submitting your online application to VBON, you’ll receive a confirmation receipt which contains a Fieldprint code required to register for fingerprinting through Fieldprint VA. These fingerprints are used to run a criminal background check on you.

Register for the NCLEX.

Nurse standing in wide hallway with ipad

Register online to take the NCLEX through Pearson Vue. Do this immediately after filing your online licensure application with VBON or your authorization to test (ATT) could be delayed.

Pass the NCLEX.

Nurse looking happy because she passed the NCLEX

Once you received your ATT from Pearson Vue, you must take the NCLEX within the allotted window of time, which is typically about 90 days. Once your passing results are processed and VBON verifies that they have received all necessary items, you will be issued an RN license.

Keep up your continuing education requirements.

Nurses keeping up with their continuing education requirements

Nurses in Virginia must complete a continued competency activity or course in order to renew their license. Nursing licenses must be renewed every two years. VBON maintains a list of acceptable activities or courses to satisfy their continued competency requirements.

Acquiring an RN license in Virginia

The first step in getting your nursing license in Virginia is to complete an appropriate education program. For RNs, this can be either an ADN or BSN. ADNs typically take two years to complete and four years for a BSN (unless you attend an accelerated BSN program).

According to the VBON, RN applicants in Virginia must complete a minimum of 500 direct client care hours across the lifespan to apply for a license. If your nursing program is in Virginia, this will mostly likely be completed as part of your degree program requirements. No matter where you are educated, make sure that you complete these care hours prior to applying. 

Choosing a program

Gable said there are lots of factors to consider when choosing the right nursing program for you. Above all, you should be diligent and do your research.

“Do you want to be a registered nurse? Do you want to be a practical nurse? What’s the end goal? How much time do you have to spend [on education]? Do you want to do a four-year program to start? Do you want to do a two-year program? It’s just what fits your lifestyle and finding a program that meets you where you are.”

It’s becoming more common for some employers to prefer or even require their nurses to have a BSN, but ADN programs still account for a large portion of nurses entering the profession.

“We are seeing this uptick in students selecting bachelor’s programs, but associate degree programs are still graduating the majority of the students.”

Gable recommended you also ask yourself the following when selecting a nursing program that’s right for you:

  • Is the program accredited?
  • What is the program’s NCLEX pass rate?
  • What are the program’s clinical experiences like?
  • How much is it going to cost?

Applying for licensure

As you get close to graduating, you’ll want to begin the licensure application process. The first step is to simply submit an application online to the Board and pay the appropriate fee. After doing that, you’ll want to immediately register for two things: a fingerprint-based criminal background check and the NCLEX. The first must be done through Fieldprint VA and the second through Pearson Vue. You’ll need a Fieldprint code to register to take your fingerprints, which can be found on your application confirmation receipt after applying through VBON.

When Pearson Vue verifies your eligibility to take the exam, you’ll receive an authorization to test (ATT) which gives you a window of time to take the NCLEX (usually about 90 days). You must schedule and take the exam in this time frame. Passing the NCLEX is your final step on the path to licensure. Once the Board verifies that you’ve passed, you’ll be a registered nurse.

LPN and CNA licenses

The process for obtaining a license as a licensed practical nurse (LPN) or certified nursing aide (CNA) is practically the same as becoming an RN. The major difference of course is that LPNs and CNAs must graduate from nursing programs specific to those roles, instead of getting an ADN or BSN. 

LPNs and CNAs also take different licensing examinations. LPNs will take the NCLEX-PN instead of the NCLEX for RNs. CNAs do not take the NCLEX. CNAs in Virginia must take a competency evaluation through Credentia.

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

The time it takes to acquire a nursing license in Virginia depends on two main factors: the type of nurse you will become and the education program you choose. Most RNs will complete either an ADN or a BSN, which typically take two and four years to complete, respectively. Some people may choose to get an accelerated bachelor’s of science in nursing (ABSN), which usually takes about 12-18 months to complete on top of the bachelor’s degree they already had. 

If your goal is to become an RN, it may take the following amounts of time to complete the necessary steps in the process:

  • Complete nursing education program: approximately 2-4 years.
  • Submit online application to VBON, register for fingerprints, and register for NCLEX: About an hour.
  • Receive authorization to test (ATT) and take the NCLEX: Once Pearson Vue has received the necessary materials, you will receive an authorization to test. This window of time typically grants you 90 days to take the NCLEX.
  • Receive test results: According to the NCLEX website, results usually take about five days to be available, though this can vary.
  • Receive license: The VBON says that license application processing times are between 30-45 business days to complete.

Continuing education requirements for Virginia nurses

Virginia’s continuing education requirements for nurses is a little different than most other states. RNs and LPNs in Virginia must complete at least one of the following during each license renewal cycle, which is two years:

  • 15 contact hours of workshops, seminars, conferences or courses relevant to the practice of nursing and 640 hours of active practice as a nurse
  • 30 contact hours of workshops, seminars, conferences or courses relevant to the practice of nursing
  • Current specialty certification by a national certifying organization
  • Completion of a minimum of three credit hours of post-licensure academic education relevant to nursing practice
  • A board-approved refresher course in nursing
  • Completion of nursing-related, evidence-based practice project or research study
  • Completion of publication as the author or co-author during a renewal cycle
  • Teaching or developing a nursing-related course resulting in no less than three semester hours of college credit, a 15-week course, or specialty certification
  • Teaching or developing nursing-related continuing education courses for up to 30 contact hours

Gable said it’s great that there are so many options to fulfill the continuing education requirements, especially for nurses who may already be doing projects beyond bedside care such as earning or renewing a specialty certification, conducting research, teaching and more. “I adjunct teach and a lot of nursing leaders, whether they’re in the practice world or in the academic world, will still continue to teach and be able to develop courses. It’s absolutely awesome,” said Gable. “And then of course, you do have the workshops and seminars and conferences, anything like that to fall back on.”

When you renew your nursing license in Virginia, you don’t actually have to submit evidence of completing one of the above items. However, the Board could request to see your evidence at any time. You should maintain any and all documents related to your continuing education to prepare for this.

Is Virginia a compact state?


Yes, Virginia is a member of the Nurse Licensure Compact (NLC). Under the NLC, Virginia nurses can practice in the other NLC states without having to obtain additional licenses.

Nurse job outlook in Virginia

The employment of nurses across the nation is expected to grow 6.2% through 2031, about as fast as average among all other occupations according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). That still translates to roughly 203,200 jobs each year nationwide. 

Nursing home facilities in Virginia, like in many other places, have been experiencing workforce shortages that got worse because of the COVID-19 pandemic. New legislation introduced in December 2022 could set minimum staffing requirements for nursing facilities if it eventually passes. This could mean lead to more jobs available in these types of facilities. 

Median annual salaries for nurses in Virginia

The annual mean wage of nurses in Virginia sits at $76,900 as of May 2021, according to data from the BLS. This is just barely under the national median, which is . Although the annual mean wage may not be as high as states like California or Hawaii, it’s important to keep in mind that Virginia tends to have a lower cost of living. The highest paying metropolitan area in the state is the Washington D.C.-Arlington-Alexandria metro area, which does include parts of Virginia. The other highest paying areas in the state are also concentrated on the east side, such as Charlottesville, Richmond and the Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News metro areas.

Registered Nurses
hero-widget-desktop-graph hero-widget-desktop-graph

10%$59,170

25%$61,730

50%$76,900Median

75%$87,030

90%$100,990

Median Hourly Wage$37

Job growth6.2%

Total Employment66,980

Metro area Median Salary Bottom 10% Top 10%
Winchester, VA-WV $79,320 $62,160 $100,990
Charlottesville, VA $78,930 $52,830 $100,390
Richmond, VA $77,450 $59,640 $100,510
Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News, VA-NC $77,030 $59,640 $100,990
Staunton-Waynesboro, VA $75,040 $59,640 $79,160
Lynchburg, VA $72,850 $57,240 $92,440
Roanoke, VA $67,520 $48,850 $94,800
Harrisonburg, VA $62,390 $48,920 $100,990
Blacksburg-Christiansburg-Radford, VA $60,770 $48,400 $90,200

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) 2021 median salary; projected job growth through 2031. 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.

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:

Requirements for foreign-educated nurses

Nurses educated outside of the United States and its territories have the same RN application process, but with a few additional steps. First and foremost, they must request the Commission on Graduates of Foreign Nursing Schools (CGFNS) to send VBON either the CES Professional Report or CGFNS Certificate on their behalf. Both of these documents attest to how the nurse’s education and experience in another country compares and translates to a U.S. nursing education. Both can be used by foreign-educated nurses to secure licensure in the U.S.

In order to get either of these documents, the CGFNS requires applicants to submit evidence of their English language proficiency by passing a proficiency exam such as the Test of English as a Foreign Language, Internet-Based Test (TOEFL® iBT). Nurses may be exempt from this requirement if their education was instructed in English and/or if they were educated in a country such as the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia or others.

Useful organizations to know

The Virginia Board of Nursing (VBON) is the regulatory body responsible for licensing nurses in the state and should be contacted regarding any questions pertaining to nursing licenses.

Nursing students can join the Virginia Nursing Students’ Association to take advantage of their connections, networking and educational resources, leadership opportunities and career guidance.

The Virginia Nurses Association is the leading professional organization for RNs and provides members with a host of benefits, including automatic membership to its parent organization, the American Nurses Association.  

Gable said her piece of advice to new nurses is, “Find a mentor, and never turn down free education.”


kendall upton

Written and reported by:

Kendall Upton

Staff Writer

heather gable

With professional insight from:

Dr. Heather A. Gable, DNP, RN, LNHA, CNE, NEA-BC, Dean

Centra College, Lynchburg, VA