License Lag Creates Problems for Travel Nurses
Anytime you apply for something — be it a mortgage loan or a passport — you can expect to wait for approval. Nurses applying for licensure are facing protracted wait times across the country. Application processing times are slowing to a crawl, and there’s little consistency in license application processes across states. The result is significant delays for nurses eager to begin their careers — and for healthcare facilities waiting for newly licensed nurses to fill increasing staff shortages.
License delays are the new norm
There was already a severe shortage of nurses due to retirement and pandemic-related burnout. Now, healthcare facilities are struggling to find nurses for their facilities for a different reason: extended delays in nursing licensure.
Since the middle of the pandemic, nurses across the country have noticed increasing wait times for nursing license approval. In some cases, the time between application submission and license approval goes on for months. Certain states with a high volume of nurses, such as California and Texas, have particularly long wait times — averaging 118 days in Texas and 103 in California — as nursing boards struggle to keep pace with applications.
Many bottlenecks are clerical in nature. Misplaced documents and poor communication between states are two top reasons for license approval delays. Nurses are reporting that their applications have been marked as incomplete, even though they submitted all necessary files, and reaching the right person to rectify these issues has proven challenging. Staff shortages on nursing boards are also causing significant slowdowns, while other issues remain outside the boards’ control. Criminal background checks, for instance, take additional time to process.
These delays are hurting nurses, hospitals, and patients alike. License lags affect new nurses and practicing nurses traveling to new states. This is particularly problematic for travel nurses who may be moving between states that are not part of interstate licensing agreements, such as the Nurse Licensure Compact. Some nurses have had job offers rescinded because their licenses were not approved in time. As a result, hospitals remain understaffed until they can bring on licensed nurses, and patients are subjected to higher patient-staff ratios.
Get ahead of license lag
Licensing delays have the potential to derail staff and travel nurses’ career plans. Although not all aspects of licensure are within a nurse’s control, there are some steps nurses can take to make sure their applications are processed quickly and with minimal effort.
First, apply for your license as early as possible. Research licensing requirements and average license approval times for the state where you plan to work. If you’re a travel nurse expecting to begin a new contract in 13 weeks, don’t wait until the end of your current contract to start your license application.
Submit a complete application, with all necessary documentation, right away. Nursing boards only begin reviewing and approving applications after they are considered complete — and they don’t always do this immediately. Providing complete, accurate data will get you into the review queue faster.
If you’re concerned about licensing or other delays, consult with your recruiter. They may know of expedited processing opportunities or be able to help you adjust your assignment plans to accommodate delays.
The good news is most states are working on ways to improve their nursing licensure processes, so the backlog will eventually end.