Getting Back into Nursing - Do You Need to Retake the NCLEX-RN Exam?

  • 18 March, 2022

So, you have decided to get back into nursing. That is fantastic! We need more intelligent and experienced nurses in the workforce. Life happens, and sometimes you need to step away from your career to focus on other things, like raising children or dealing with health concerns. Regardless of the reasons you took a break, if you have been away from the bedside for some time, the thought of catching up with the fast-paced and ever-changing world of healthcare may feel a bit overwhelming.

Getting Back into Nursing - Do You Need to Retake the NCLEX-RN Exam?

1. What about the NCLEX?

You might also be concerned with the possibility of needing to retake the dreaded NCLEX exam. If you are anything like most nurses, after passing the NCLEX, you assumed (with no small amount of relief) that you would never have to retake it. Fortunately, that might still be the case! But if you find yourself needing to retake it, that is ok too. Returning to nursing after taking some time off is not uncommon, and there is a path for you. If you are ready to get back into nursing but are wondering how to make that happen-read on!

2. The need to retake the NCLEX exam will depend on a few different factors:

2.1 First, has your license expired?

This question may seem a bit obvious, but if life has been crazy and you are unsure if your license has expired, finding this information is the first step.

You can look up your license information through Nursys, a national database for verification of nurse licensure. You can also choose to download a quick and free Nursys report that will show all your licenses, both active and lapsed. You will also be able to see if your license is in a compact state and, if so, which states you are eligible to practice in. Alternatively, most states will allow you to verify a license on their website by using the license number or social security number of the license holder.

If you have been out of work for a while but continued to renew your license every two years by completing the required continuing education or practice hours, then you should be good to go. Double-check that your license is still active. Also, go ahead and begin the process of renewing any certifications needed for the area in which you want to work, such as Basic Life Support, Advanced Cardiac Life Support, or Pediatric Advanced Life Support. Having all the necessary certifications already current will prevent rushing to complete them after a job offer-and also look good on your resume.

If your license has lapsed and you need to renew it, no worries. Getting your license reinstated may be easier than you think. Keep reading!

2.2 Second, how long have you been away from nursing?

Has it been five years, ten years, or even more since you last worked as a nurse? Can you remember when your license expired? In several states, the amount of time that has passed since your license expired will determine the requirements for renewal. In Texas, the tipping point for a more extensive renewal process is four years. In California, it is eight years. Knowing how long it has been since your license expired is essential in determining what requirements you need to meet for renewal. Again, this information can be found through the national database, Nursys.

2.3 Third, what state are you licensed through?

This factor is the most important since requirements for license renewal will vary greatly depending on your state. Individual states are responsible for regulating their RNs and do so in part by determining the requirements for licensure. You will need to abide by the conditions of the state in which you are planning to work. Since every state has its list of what is required to renew a nursing license, your path to returning to work as a nurse could look significantly different than someone else's based on the state.

Another factor to consider is if you have been licensed in your current state or want to work in a state where you have never been licensed. Renewing a nursing license in a state where you have not worked will likely be more complicated than renewing in the same state in which you previously held a license.

If you're wondering what this might look like for you, here are a few examples.

In the state of California, if your license expired more than eight years ago, you will need to submit proof of 30 hours of continuing education within the past two years, along with some fees and forms. However, suppose you have never been licensed in California and do not have a current nursing license in another state. In that case, you will need to retake the NCLEX to receive a California nursing license.

In the state of Texas, if your license expired less than four years ago, you would need to pay the required fees and submit documentation of 20 hours of continuing education. If your license expired more than four years ago, you would need to do all the above in addition to taking a board-approved refresher course or program of study and retaking the nursing jurisprudence exam. So, although you would not need to retake the NCLEX in Texas, you would still have some additional requirements.

In the state of South Carolina, if your license has expired for more than five years, you will need to take a refresher course or retake the NCLEX. If it has been less than five years, you can renew with 30 hours of continuing education.

In the state of Ohio, the renewal requirements are not differentiated based on how long you have been out of work. If your license expires, you need 24 hours of continuing education and a background check for renewal. However, the type of continuing education hours required is determined by whether your license has expired for more or less than two years.

In the state of Florida, reactivating an expired license requires extra fees and specific continuing education requirements. You would need to email the board of nursing for exact reactivation requirements in your particular case.

As you can see from the examples above, the steps for getting back to the bedside will depend on your specific situation and state. It is the nurse's responsibility to research to ensure they can meet all requirements for licensure in the state in which they want to work. You can find all these requirements on each state's individual Board of Nursing website. NCSBN is a helpful website with links to the contact information for each state's board of nursing. Take a few minutes to check out your state's requirements and make a plan for checking them off.

3. What if I need to retake the NCLEX?

If you end up needing to retake the NCLEX exam, do not panic. Nursing school might feel like it is in the distant past but remember, you have some advantages. First, you have passed the NCLEX before. You already have an idea of what to expect, and you know what helped you find success last time. Second, you have real-life experience. The NCLEX is all about determining if you have the knowledge and decision-making skills a new nurse should have. If you have worked as a nurse, you already know you have the knowledge and skills needed. Brush up on any areas you feel unsure of and be confident in what you bring to the table. Third, there are more study resources for the NCLEX than ever before. EduMind offers a great NCLEX-RN exam prep course to help you prepare and pass the NCLEX a second time with confidence.

You may decide to repeat the process that helped you pass the first time or try something new. Regardless, go ahead and begin setting aside time to study. Consider using a prep course like EduMind's and answer as many practice questions as possible. Then, when you find a topic you feel less confident in, give it some extra study time. Renewing your license is just as a worthwhile investment of time and resources as it was to become a nurse in the first place.

Once you have completed all the requirements and have renewed your license, do not let a gap in your work experience discourage you from seeking your dream job. Many hospitals offer residency programs for nurses. If you have been away from nursing for a considerable amount of time, a residency could be a great way to step back to the bedside. Be positive in how you present yourself and confident that you bring experience and value even if you have been out of nursing for a while.

Are you interested in becoming a nurse? Get in touch with EduMind today about how we can help you achieve this goal with our NCLEX-RN exam prep courses!


Administrative Code. (2013). Texas Board of Nursing.

Florida Board of Nursing >> Registered Nurse (RN) - Licensing, Renewals & Information. (2022). Florida Board of Nursing.

License/Certificate Renewal. (2022). California Board of Registered Nursing.

RN, APRN, LPN. (2022). Ohio Board of Nursing.

SCLLR. (2022). South Carolina Board of Nursing.

About the Author: Christy Geaslen

Christy Geaslen is a registered nurse of eight years, a healthcare writer, and a mom of five. She loves researching and believes knowledge can change the world. This passion drives her to provide upbeat, informative, reader-friendly content that empowers others.

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