California Nurse Salary & Resource Guide

24 Min Read Published November 6, 2023
City skyline with text about becoming a nurse in California

Becoming a registered nurse is a solid career choice when it comes to job security, salary potential, and fulfillment. For nurses who plan to work in California, the rewards and opportunities are even more promising. The average registered nurse salary in California is often higher than any other state! This guide will explain everything you need to know about California nurse salaries and working as a nurse in California.

Average Registered Nurse Salary in California

California tops the nation when it comes to RN salaries. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that registered nurses earn an average median salary of $133,340 in the Golden State. California also employs the most RNs in the nation, with over 320,000 nurses working in the state.

In fact, over 110,000 RNs work in just the Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim metropolitan area.

Highest Paying Cities in California for Nurses

Metro Area

Hourly Wage



San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara




Santa Rosa


Santa Cruz-Watsonville








Source BLS, Date extracted: September 21, 2022.

California Nurse Salary Factors

California consistently ranks as the highest-paying state in the nation for nurses. In addition to a robust state Medicaid program, the Golden State also has a mandatory staffing ratio, which forces many hospitals to utilize the services of travel nurses in order to fill their nursing rosters.

Salary Structure

Most staff nurses who work full-time earn an hourly wage with a benefits package. These rates vary by hospital, experience level, and specialty. Many hospitals in California are unionized, so these rates may not be negotiable.  

Administrative nurses such as Directors and Assistant Directors generally receive salaries and may work more typical office hours.

Overtime Pay

Beyond the strong salaries of RNs in California, there is usually the opportunity to also earn overtime pay. In fact, in a nationwide survey, 47 percent of RNs reported working overtime. Of those, 54 percent said they added on an extra one to five hours per week; 32 percent worked six to 10 hours overtime weekly, and 15 percent put in 11 hours or more.

How to Make More Money as a Nurse in California

Although the median salary for RNs in California is already high, nurses who provide specialized care, work in advanced units, or take on supervisory positions have the potential to earn even more. 

>> Show Me Online Nursing Programs

California Nurse Work Environment

California Nurse Work Schedules

In 2020, about 1 out of 6 registered nurses worked part-time. According to the BLS, 60% of RNs across the country worked in hospitals, with smaller percentages working at physicians’ offices, home healthcare services, and nursing care facilities, and for government agencies.

Nurses on staff in hospitals and even nursing homes usually work in shifts since 24 hours of care needs to be covered. Therefore, RNs usually have to work some nights, weekends, and holidays. Typical shifts are 12 hours long, and nurses work 3 - 4 days a week.

For those seeking 9-to-5 type hours, RNs who work for medical offices, schools, and daytime clinics offer more traditional work hours.

California Nurse-to-Patient Ratio

The other thing that sets nursing jobs in California apart is its unique nurse-to-patient ratio law. It mandates that there has to be a minimum ratio of one nurse for every five patients (1:5), and within Intensive Care Units, the ratio is one to two (1:2). This helps ensure that nurses are not overwhelmed and overworked and ultimately improves patient care outcomes.

Demand for Nurses in California

California is facing a nursing shortage more severe than any other state, making it more vital than ever that a new generation of RNs step in to fill this need.

According to one study, California has only produced 50 percent of the nurses it needs over the last couple of decades. This is just one of the reasons the demand for nurses is so high in California. Employers are doing all they can to attract and retain nursing talent in the state.

One of the drivers behind this incredible demand is the state’s robust Medicaid program called Medi-Cal. With over 6.6 million enrollees, it’s a public health insurance program for low-income individuals including families, children, seniors, persons with disabilities, foster care, and those with specific diseases such as tuberculosis, breast cancer, or HIV/AIDS.

A recent study by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) projected one of the largest nursing shortages in the country for California. In addition, our data shows that the highest-demand specialty is in the ICU.

>> Show Me Online Nursing Programs

Job Climate

HRSA nursing workforce projections predict a significant shortage in California.
By 2030, California will have 253,400 nurses in the state.
However, the need for CA nurses will be 269,300, leaving the state with an overall shortage of 15,900 nurses.

Highest Demand Specialties

  • Emergency
  • Intensive Care Unit
  • Labor & Delivery
  • Med/Surg
  • Operating Room
  • Progressive Care
  • Telemetry

Beyond job numbers, California is also a desirable place to live with a strong economy. Whether you want to settle in beautiful wine country or the sunny Southern California coastline, there are many highly sought-after areas to call home. 

California Nursing Licenses

The California Board of Registered Nursing (CBRN) regulates and issues all registered nursing licenses in the state. California is not part of the Nurse Licensure Compact, so every nurse must apply for a separate California license to practice there.

How Long Does it Take to Get a California Nursing License?

Licensure in California can be a long, time-consuming process. Processing times vary based on how long it takes for the board to receive and review documents from schools, agencies, and other states or countries. The estimated processing time for an initial license can take anywhere from 10 - 12 weeks for an initial license. However, we’ve seen this process take up to 6 months! License renewal can be completed online within 72 hours or by mail which can take 6-8 weeks. 

For the latest estimates, see their processing times page at the following address:

Read on to learn about the application and best practices. 

Why Does California Nursing Licensure Take So Long?

It may seem obvious, but for starters, the California Board Of Nursing receives overwhelming amounts of applications. Secondly, snail mail and college transcripts can slow the process - especially if they are requested from multiple schools. However, we’ve found that the most prevalent factor to slow down licensure is fingerprinting. They offer two methods for fingerprinting: 

  • Manual fingerprints
  • LiveScan

As a rule of thumb - manual fingerprints will slow down the process. The probability of error is high - manual fingerprints can be easily smudged and consequently deemed unreadable. However, nurses may not know this until their fingerprints have already been received by the CBRN - with snail mail this process can take weeks. We suggest taking great care to ensure that your fingerprints are clear and readable. Additionally, the CBRN charges an additional $50 for manual fingerprinting and this doesn’t include the fee that the fingerprinting service agency may charge. 

If you want your license fast - we suggest LiveScan.  But, you’ll have to be in California to complete this method. LiveScan is an electronic fingerprinting reader and results are received within seconds - it typically costs around $75. Since the LiveScan is completed in California (and, there is actually a LiveScan office located a few blocks from the California Board Of Nursing) you’ll be able to quickly complete the fingerprints and turn in your entire application all at once. Licensure processing times for those who complete LiveScan are usually around 4-6 weeks - during normal processing times. 

The overall peace of mind may be worth the trip to California if you’re from out-of-state. Better yet, if you’re a travel nurse, some travel nursing agencies will pay for your flight to California and also cover your licensing fees. 

If you need updates on your college transcripts, fingerprints or the status of your application do not hesitate to call the CBRN because “the squeaky wheel gets the grease.” Also, if you are flying into Sacramento to complete your licensure application, it is a good idea to call the CBRN ahead of time to make sure you have everything you need. They can be reached at 1-800-838-6828.  

California Nursing Licensure Options

There are two methods of obtaining licensure - Licensure by Examination and Licensure by Endorsement. California also offers the option to obtain a temporary license - good for 6 months. 

Here’s a breakdown of each of those processes:


This method is often used by nurses who are obtaining their first RN license. To obtain licensure by examination a nurse must complete the application packet found here:

In addition to the completed forms in the packet, the applicant must also include the following:

  • Appropriate fees, including fingerprint and interim permit fees, if applicable (see the current Fee Schedule) 
  • Completed “Application for Licensure by Examination”, including U.S. Social Security Number (SSN) or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN)
  • Completed fingerprints using either Live Scan or fingerprint card (Hard Card) processing method
  • One recent 2” x 2” passport-type photograph attached to the reverse side of the “Application for Licensure by Examination”
  • Completed “Request for Accommodation of Disabilities” and accompanying form(s), if applicable
  • “Request for Transcript” form(s) completed and forwarded directly from your nursing school(s) with certified transcripts
  • If applicable, documents and/or letters explaining prior convictions or disciplinary action and attesting to your rehabilitation as directed in the “Reporting Prior Convictions or Discipline Against Licenses” section of the application packet

After the application is approved, you will be able to take the NCLEX and obtain your RN license.


If you already have a valid RN license in another state, you will need to apply for Licensure by Endorsement. To qualify for endorsement (reciprocity) into California as an RN, you must hold a current and active RN license in another state, U.S. territory, or Canada, have completed an educational program meeting all California requirements, and have passed the NCLEX-RN.

To obtain licensure using this method download the Licensure by Endorsement packet found here:

If you want to speed up the process, we suggest completing LiveScan fingerprints and applying for both the permanent license and the temporary license to avoid any delays related to the college transcripts. 

In addition to the completed forms in the packet, you’ll need to provide the following:

  • Appropriate Fees (see the current Fee Schedule
  • Completed “Application for Licensure by Examination”, including U.S. Social Security Number (SSN) or Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN)
  • Completed fingerprints using either LiveScan or fingerprint card (Hard Card) processing method as directed in the INSTRUCTIONS FOR SUBMITTING FINGERPRINT CARD. Submit the non-refundable TOTAL FEE as directed on the Applicable Fee Schedule.
  • One recent 2” x 2” passport-type photograph
  • Completed Verification of License form OR if your board of nursing participates in Nursys®, visit to complete a paperless verification online. International graduates must submit license verification from the board of nursing where the examination was taken.
  • Request for Transcript form - completed and forwarded directly from the nursing school(s) with certified transcripts. To speed up the process, especially if you are flying to California, ask the college to overnight the transcripts to the California Board of Registered Nursing. 
  • If applicable, documents and/or letters explaining prior convictions or disciplinary action and attesting to your rehabilitation as directed in Section II of the General Information and Instructions.

Note that your nursing education must meet all the requirements of California’s State Board of Nursing. See Part Five for nursing education requirements.


California offers a temporary license for an additional fee of $50 - it is good for 6 months. To obtain a temporary license you’ll still need to complete the entire application packet as the license by endorsement -  except for the college transcripts. College transcripts will still need to be verified in order to receive a permanent license. The benefit of obtaining a temporary license is that you can start working while your permanent license is still being processed. Your college transcripts will be processed within those 6 months and the permanent license will be issued. 

However, if you elect to complete manual fingerprints and not LiveScan, it may not be worth it to apply for a temporary license. The time it takes to process the manual fingerprints, especially if there are errors, could take longer than the temporary license is even good for! 


Unfortunately, California does not accept military medical corps training as equivalent to accredited schooling. Anyone seeking a nursing license in the state must complete an accredited program approved by the board of nursing. Military corps members may be able to receive credit towards these approved programs, however.  


For the most accurate information on licensure in California, we recommend contacting the board directly through the following methods:

  • Office Hours
    • According to the state board’s official website, the office is open Monday through Friday, 8:00 am to 5:00 pm, with the exception of State Holidays.
  • Physical Address
    • Board of Registered Nursing
    • 1747 N. Market Blvd., Suite 150
    • Sacramento, CA 95834-1924
  • Mailing Address
    • Board of Registered Nursing
    • PO Box 944210
    • Sacramento, CA 94244-2100
  • Phone and Email

How Do I Renew My California Nursing License?

Your first California RN license is issued for two birthdays, so it will expire on the last day of the month following your birth date. From that date on, it will expire every two years. Maintaining an active license requires the completion of 30 contact hours of continuing education.

For more information on CEU requirements, see Part 8.

As of August 2023, the general renewal fee for active licenses is $190. For expired licenses, the fee to renew is $280.

Magnet Hospitals In California

The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC), in its aim to promote nursing excellence, evaluates healthcare organizations through its credentialing programs. The Magnet designation is the highest credential awarded to healthcare institutions based on their work environment, nursing excellence, innovations in nursing practice, and quality patient outcomes. For RNs seeking work with best-in-class medical institutions, choosing one with Magnet status is a smart move.

List of Magnet Hospitals in California

Organization Name City State Year Recognized
Cedars-Sinai Medical Center Los Angeles CA 2000
Children’s Hospital Los Angeles Los Angeles CA 2008
CHOC Children’s Hospital Orange CA 2008
City of Hope National Medical Center Duarte CA 2021
Eisenhower Medical Center Rancho Mirage CA 2015
El Camino Hospital Mountain View CA 2005
Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian Newport Beach CA 2005
Huntington Hospital Pasadena CA 2011
John Muir Medical Center, Concord Concord CA 2010
John Muir Medical Center, Walnut Creek Walnut Creek CA 2008
Kaiser Permanente Irvine Medical Center Ontario CA 2017
Kaiser Permanente Ontario Medical Center Irvine CA 2012
Kaiser Permanente Los Angeles Medical Center Los Angeles CA 2021
Kaiser Permanente Orange County, Anaheim Anaheim CA 2018
Kaiser Foundation Hospital - West Los Angeles Los Angeles CA 2022
Keck Hospital of USC Los Angeles CA 2018
Loma Linda University Children's Hospital Loma Linda CA 2020
Loma Linda University Medical Center Loma Linda CA 2020
Lucile Packard Children's Hospital Stanford Palo Alto CA 2019
Long Beach Memorial Medical Center/Miller Children’s & Women’s Hospital Long Beach CA 2013
MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center Fountain Valley CA 2016
MemorialCare Saddleback Medical Center Laguna Beach CA 2018
Mission Hospital Mission Viejo CA 2012
NorthBay Healthcare Group Fairfield CA 2014
Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center Pomona CA 2021
Providence Holy Cross Medical Center Mission Hills CA 2007
Providence Little Company of Mary Medical Center Torrance Torrance CA 2016
Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center Burbank CA 2020
Providence St. Jude Medical Center Fullerton CA 2020
Rady Children’s Hospital - San Diego San Diego CA 2017
Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center Los Angeles CA 2005
Salinas Valley Memorial Healthcare System Salinas CA 2021
Santa Monica UCLA Medical Center and Orthopaedic Hospital Santa Monica CA 2016
Scripps Memorial Hospital La Jolla La Jolla CA 2015
Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center Chula CA 2021
Sharp Grossmont Hospital La Mesa CA 2006
Sharp Mary Birch Hospital for Women and Newborns San Diego CA 2015
Sharp Memorial Hospital San Diego CA 2008
St. Joseph Hospital Orange CA 2007
Stanford Health Care Palo Alto CA 2007
Stewart and Lynda Resnick Neuropsychiatric Hospital at UCLA Los Angeles CA 2019
Torrance Memorial Medical Center Torrance CA 2011
UC Davis Medical Center Sacramento CA 2014
UC Health Orange CA 2003
UC San Diego Health San Diego CA 2011
University of California, San Francisco Medical Center San Francisco CA 2012
Valley Children’s Hospital Madera CA 2004
Washington Hospital Fremont CA 2011

Nursing Education in California

There are several educational paths to becoming a nurse in California. We’ve summarized them, included a list of great nursing schools in the area, and laid out some unique options to pay off your student loans.

Education Paths for Becoming an RN in California

1. Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN)

The shortest route to becoming an RN is an ADN program, which typically takes 2-3 years to complete. While earning this degree will allow you to take the NCLEX, not having a higher-level degree could take you out of the running for more competitive positions since many institutions prefer to hire RNs with more education. However, many RNs start off with their associate degree so they can begin working and gaining experience in the field, while they go back and pursue further education. 

2. Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)

This is perhaps the most common degree pathway that today’s RNs take. A bachelor’s degree is typically a four-year program. Many top hospitals list a BS as a minimum job requirement. If you intend to seek administrative or supervisory positions down the line, or specialize in a specific area of nursing, you will likely need at least a bachelor’s, and more likely, an advanced degree.

There are also RN to BSN programs, which are specifically designed for working nurses who have an associate degree, and then head back to school to earn their bachelor’s.

3. Accelerated BSN (ABSN) Program

For adults who have a bachelor’s degree in a field other than nursing but who want to change careers to become RNs, ABSN programs take one or two years to complete.

4. LVN 30 Unit Option 

For those who are already California Licensed Vocational Nurses who aspire to become registered nurses, these programs pave the way. In about 18-24 months, students can become RNs. However, it is worth noting that a degree is not awarded, and some states might not recognize the license should you ever wish to transfer your license and practice elsewhere. 

5. Military Medical Corps

While there is not a formal transfer program for military medics, many schools will work with veterans to give credit for equivalent courses. Make sure to contact your school’s academic advisor to see if this is possible.

Top 10 California Nurse Programs

There are numerous nursing programs in California, and our panel of nurses ranked them based on factors mentioned in the methodology. Because of the strength of California's public school system, many of the nursing programs on this list are offered by Cal State or UC schools. Because individual nursing pathways and careers take various forms, the top 10 nurse programs in California are ranked in no particular order. 


This list is based on a number of factors including:

  • Reputation

  • NCLEX pass rate

  • Tuition

  • Acceptance rate, when available

  • Only ACEN and CCNE-approved programs are eligible

Our selection panel is made up of 3 Registered Nurses with years of experience and multiple degrees:

  • Tracy Everhart, MSN, RN, CNS

  • Tyler Faust, MSN, RN

  • Kathleen Gaines, MSN, BSN, RN, BA, CBC

1. California State University, Los Angeles

In-State Tuition: $6,814 Out-of-State Tuition: $16,318

Online: No

Program Length: 4 years

One of the lesser-known public schools in the Los Angeles area, California State University Los Angeles, provides a high-quality education at an affordable cost. Undergraduate students can attend a traditional four-year BSN, an RN-BSN, an ADN-BSN, or an accelerated BSN program in California. All four routes are accredited by the CCNE. Most nursing students select the traditional BSN, which has options for current Cal State LA students and transfer students. Cal State LA also has some graduate programs, but the BSN is arguably its best nursing degree.

>> Related: ABSN Programs in Every State

2. University of California, Irvine

In-State Tuition: $13,985 Out-of-State Tuition: $43,739

Online: No

Program Length: 4 years

The University of California, Irvine's nursing school, the Sue & Bill Gross School of Nursing, teaches over 170 undergraduate nurses who enjoy a 93% NCLEX pass rate. The BSN was created for those without a bachelor's degree or any nursing experience. This program requires two years of undergraduate coursework completed at UCI, then two years of nursing coursework. The outcomes for the program are excellent, and nurses usually find positions around Southern California. UCI also has an MSN in community and population health nursing, a niche degree that could lead to high-paying nursing positions. 

3. California State University, Fullerton

In-State Tuition: $7,078.34 Out-of-State Tuition: $18,958.34

Online: No

Program Length: 4 years

California State University, Fullerton offers a great mix of undergraduate and graduate nursing options. The university's two main traditional BSN options, for current CSU Fullerton freshmen and students entering the university, both saw every recent graduate pass the NCLEX on their first try. Current LVNs can choose the school's unique LVN-BSN program. CSUF also has an accredited nurse anesthesia DNP, a great program for those interested in the highest-paying nursing career. Students only need a BSN to apply for the program, though expect to pay much higher tuition rates than those listed above. 

4. California State University, Bakersfield

In-State Tuition: $5,742 Out-of-State Tuition: $17,622

Online: No

Program Length: 4 years

Another affordable option, particularly for those who already live in California, California State University, Bakersfield has both a pre-licensure BSN and an RN-BSN option. The pre-licensure route is a three-year program, though nursing students first need to complete one year of prerequisite courses through CSU Bakersfield or another accredited school. The program only accepts new students during the fall semester, but recent graduates enjoyed a 98.21% first-time NCLEX pass rate. CSU Bakersfield also has an MSN Family Nurse Practitioner degree for current RNs that leads to APRN licensure. 

5. University of California, Los Angeles

In-State Tuition: $12,522 Out-of-State Tuition: $45,096

Online: No

Program Length: 4 years

One of the top public schools in the West, the University of California, Los Angeles offers some of the best programs in the nation, and the BSN is no exception. The storied BSN first graduated students back in 1954, and last year's graduates saw a 97.73% NCLEX pass rate. During the program, nursing students complete a Clinically-Based Scholarly Project aimed at ways to improve the healthcare system. After graduating from UCLA, nursing students should have no trouble securing a position in California. 

6. California State University, Long Beach

In-State Tuition: $5,742 Out-of-State Tuition: $17,622

Online: No

Program Length: 4 years

California State University, Long Beach, another public school located in Southern California, boasts some of the best NCLEX pass rates in the state year after year. Over the past five years, CSU Long Beach graduates passed the NCLEX at a 95% rate or higher, making it one of the highest-success BSNs in the state. The traditional BSN allows students to study in either semesters or trimesters, a rate option that gives students plenty of flexibility. CSU Long Beach also has an RN-BSN and ADN-BSN for those who already earned a two-year nursing degree. 

7. California State University, Stanislaus

In-State Tuition: $5,742 Out-of-State Tuition: $17,622

Online: No

Program Length: 4 years

Located in the middle of the state, California State University, Stanislaus gives nursing students plenty of degree options. Undergraduate routes include a pre-licensure BSN, RN-BSN, online RN-BSN, accelerated BSN, and LVN-BSN. The main BSN option, the pre-licensure track, recently saw every graduate pass the NCLEX on their first try. Including prerequisite courses, the pre-licensure BSN takes four years to complete. CSU Stanislaus' MSN options are also worth mentioning because of their affordability. The three MSN degree options are nursing education, nursing administration, and gerontological nursing. 

8. San Diego State University

In-State Tuition: $5,742 Out-of-State Tuition: $17,622

Online: No

Program Length: 4 years

San Diego State University, a larger nursing school, recently had a 90.67% NCLEX pass rate, which is much higher than the national average. Add in the prime location in San Diego, and SDSU's traditional BSN is a top option for in-state and out-of-state students. Those who get tired of living in San Diego full-time can also enroll in a study abroad program for nurses, a rarity for BSN students. Additionally, SDSU is home to one of the best RN to BSN programs in California.

9. California State University, Sacramento

In-State Tuition: $5,742 Out-of-State Tuition: $17,622

Online: No

Program Length: 4 years

Located in the state's capital, California State University, Sacramento boasts an excellent nursing program for undergraduates. The pre-licensure BSN accepts well over 150 nursing students each year and saw graduates earn a 97.39% NCLEX pass rate. Despite the high NCLEX pass rate, CSU Sacramento could be one of the less competitive programs for new applicants. Other undergraduate options include an RN-BSN for current nurses and an LVN-RN, a 30-unit program that helps accelerate nurses' careers. 

10. University of California, San Francisco

In-State Tuition: $14,312 Out-of-State Tuition: $44,066

Online: No

Program Length: 4 years

The University of California, San Francisco, has arguably one of the best nursing schools in the nation. This university offers a traditional “core Curriculum” BSN as well as a Nursing (4+1) BSN-MSN dual degree program where students can earn a BSN and MSN in the same program. The university reports an 89% first-time NCLEX pass rate. Nursing students can also choose from various MSN and DNP options, including nurse-midwifery, administration, and nurse practitioner. 

Continuing Education Requirements for Nurses in California

Like most other states, California requires continuing education for nurses to maintain an active license. Requirements are quite simple across the board for LPNs, RNs, and NPs: 30 contact hours every two years. 

The most important thing to remember when choosing a continuing education course is to make sure you’ll be able to credit for it. The state board defines acceptable course content as the following:

The content of all courses of continuing education must be relevant to the practice of nursing. Learning experiences are expected to enhance the knowledge of the registered nurse at a level above that required for licensure. Courses must be related to the scientific knowledge and/or technical skills required for the practice of nursing, or be related to direct and/or indirect patient/client care.

For further information on continuing education units including finding, paying, and getting credit for your courses, see the Continuing Education Guide.

California Nursing Student Loan Forgiveness

If you had to borrow funds for your nursing education, it could pay to look into the State Loan Repayment Program (SLRP). The program is available to both RNs and APRNs, including NPs, and Certified Nurse Midwives (CNMs) but there are specific eligibility requirements. 

To be eligible for the Bachelor of Science in Nursing Loan Repayment, the applicant must have a license that is current and in good standing in California, a BSN degree, and be practicing as an RN in a Medically Underserved Area (MUA), Health Professional Shortage Area - Primary Care (HPSA-PC), County, State, prison, or Veteran’s facility. In addition, the applicant must also have outstanding educational debt from a commercial or U.S. government lending institution, and be willing to work in a medically underserved area for one year.

2023 applications were open from May 1st to July 31st, and are currently closed until the next application cycle in May 2024. You can find the application here CalREACH. If approved, you may receive up to $10,000. 

For NPs, applicants may receive up to $50,000, depending on if they offer full- or part-time service. 

California Nursing Labor Unions

In California, right-to-work laws, which aim to protect the rights of non-union workers, do not exist. Chances are, if you plan to work as an RN in California, you might be obligated to become part of a major union. These include:

SEIU Nurse Alliance of California – With 35,000 members, it serves as a leading voice for RNs in California and is part of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the largest and fastest-growing healthcare union in California and in the nation.

California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee/AFL-CIO (CNA) – CNA is one of the nation’s fastest-growing labor and professional organizations in the U.S., with more than 100,000 members in hospitals, clinics, and home health agencies in all 50 states. CNA/NNOC is also a founding member of the 225,000-member National Nurses United, which in 2009 united CNA/NNOC, the United American Nurses, and the Massachusetts Nurses Association to create the largest union and professional association of nurses in U.S. history.

United Nurses Association of California (UNAC) - The United Nurses Associations of California/Union of Healthcare Professionals (UNAC/UHCP) represents over 35,000 registered nurses and other healthcare professionals.

How to Become a Nurse in California

Step 1: Enroll in an Accredited Nursing Program

First, decide whether you want to earn an LPN, ADN, or a BSN. If you are attending an ADN or BSN program, it is absolutely essential to select a program with accreditation from:

  • Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN), or 

  • Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)

Step 2: Obtain Licensure

Following graduation, obtaining a nursing license is the next critical step. Passing the appropriate licensing exam, such as the NCLEX-RN for registered nurses, demonstrates your competence and opens the door to starting your career as a new nurse.

Step 3: Pursue Specialized Certifications

For those interested in focusing on a specific nursing specialization, earning additional certifications in that field is a wise move. These certifications showcase your expertise and can enhance your career prospects.

Step 4: Continue Learning

The nursing profession thrives on continuous learning. Regularly completing Continuing Education Units (CEUs) is a requirement for maintaining your nursing license. Nurses in California must complete 30 CEUs every two years to renew their nursing license.

Moreover, as your nursing journey progresses, consider further education, like pursuing a BSN, MSN,  or DNP. Achieving higher levels of education typically also means increased earning potential!

California Nursing FAQs

  • What do you need to be a nurse in California?

    • To become a nurse in California, you must complete an accredited vocational nursing program for LVN or pursue an ADN or BSN program to become an RN. Upon graduation, you must pass the NCLEX-PN or NCLEX-RN exam, and apply for state licensure. 

  • How long is RN school in California?

    • The length of RN school in California depends on your chosen path: around 2 years for an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN), and approximately 4 years for a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). Program variations, part-time or full-time attendance, and prerequisites can influence the duration.

  • Is California a good place for nurses?

    • Yes! California is a great place for nurses due to its diverse healthcare settings, high demand for healthcare professionals, and competitive salaries. California also has picturesque Pacific coast beaches, vibrant cities, and a pleasant climate year-round.

  • How to become an RN in California fast?

    • The two fastest ways to become an Rn in California fast include earning a two-year ADN or a 12-18 month accelerated BSN for students with a prior bachelor's degree in a non-nursing field. 

  • How much is RN school in California?

    • The cost of RN school in California can vary widely depending on factors such as the type of program (ADN, BSN, or accelerated), whether you're attending a public or private institution, whether you're an in-state or out-of-state student, and additional expenses like textbooks and clinical fees. Total costs can range from $10,000 to over $50,000 per year. 

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