Nursing Schools and Licensing Requirements in Kentucky

With nearly 44,000 RNs and an additional 3,500 advanced practice nurses, Kentucky has one of the highest concentrations of nurses per worker of any state. Nonetheless, according to a 2015 report by the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, the state has suffered from a shortage of healthcare staff since the early 2000s. The problem was exacerbated when the Affordable Care Act passed and more residents gained access to healthcare. Before the ACA passed, the state needed 5,635 registered nurses to meet patient need, and today the nursing shortage is significantly higher. That applies equally to advanced practice nurses, some of whom are taking on primary care roles. To explore how you can help Kentucky meet its nursing needs, compare nursing schools and programs and find out what it takes to start practicing.

Top 10 Nursing Schools and Licensing Requirements in Kentucky

Rank School Location
1 University of Louisville Louisville, KY
2 Murray State University Murray, KY
3 Eastern Kentucky University Richmond, KY
4 Bellarmine University Louisville, KY
5 University of Kentucky Lexington, KY
6 Western Kentucky University Bowling Green, KY
7 Kentucky State University Frankfort, KY
8 Northern Kentucky University Highland Heights, KY
9 Morehead State University Morehead, KY
10 Kentucky Christian University Grayson, KY
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  • Methodology


    To be considered for this ranking, schools were required to meet the following criteria:

    Accredited at the institutional level
    Private nonprofit or public school
    Minimum of 1 bachelor’s or master’s degree in subject area for 4-year schools
    Minimum of 1 associate degree or certificate program in subject area for 2-year schools

    Schools were then scored on factors such as:

    Cost & Financial Aid
    Number and variety of program offerings
    Student-teacher ratios
    Graduation rates (4-year schools only)
    Placement and support services offered
    Academic/Career counseling services
    Employment services
    Loan default rates

    These factors were assembled for each school and rated using a peer-based-value (PBV) calculation. PBV compares the cost of a program to the cost of other programs with the same (or similar) qualitative score and cost. PBV denotes the overall value or “bang for your buck” of a college or degree program.

Top Nursing Schools in Kentucky

4 – Year Colleges

  1. University of Louisville
    Location

    Louisville, KY

  2. Murray State University
    Location

    Murray, KY

  3. Eastern Kentucky University
    Location

    Richmond, KY

  4. Bellarmine University
    Location

    Louisville, KY

  5. University of Kentucky
    Location

    Lexington, KY

  6. Western Kentucky University
    Location

    Bowling Green, KY

  7. Kentucky State University
    Location

    Frankfort, KY

  8. Northern Kentucky University
    Location

    Highland Heights, KY

  9. Morehead State University
    Location

    Morehead, KY

  10. Kentucky Christian University
    Location

    Grayson, KY

2 – Year Colleges

  1. West Kentucky Community and Technical College
    Location

    Paducah, KY

  2. Owensboro Community and Technical College
    Location

    Owensboro, KY

  3. Maysville Community and Technical College
    Location

    Maysville, KY

  4. Henderson Community College
    Location

    Henderson, KY

  5. Madisonville Community College
    Location

    Madisonville, KY

  6. Hazard Community and Technical College
    Location

    Hazard, KY

  7. Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College
    Location

    Cumberland, KY

  8. Southcentral Kentucky Community and Technical College
    Location

    Bowling Green, KY

  9. Ashland Community and Technical College
    Location

    Ashland, KY

  10. Gateway Community and Technical College
    Location

    Florence, KY

Kentucky’s Licensure Process

The Kentucky Board of Nursing provides licenses for nurses in the state. It is charged with enforcing state laws that govern the nursing profession, so the board imposes stringent rules when issuing licenses for practice. The agency also oversees Kentucky’s nursing education programs.

Steps to Licensure in KY

Graduates of a board-approved nursing degree program can apply for initial licensure by examination. In Kentucky, this process includes:

  • Submitting an application and paying the required $125 fee to the Kentucky Board of Nursing
  • Completing a criminal background check
  • Filling out a fingerprint card after paying a $14.75 fee to the Kentucky State Police
  • Paying $9 to take and pass a 35-question state jurisprudence exam covering Kentucky’s nursing regulations
  • Arranging for their college to submit a certified list of graduates to the Kentucky Board of Nursing
  • Registering to take the NCLEX-RN with Pearson VUE testing center and paying $200

After receiving an authorization to test (ATT) from Pearson VUE, applicants must schedule the exam within 90 days. Applicants who pass the test will be issued a license by the state. Those who do not pass will have to start the process over, except the jurisprudence exam. Background reports remain valid for six months from the date they were run.

Applicants who graduated from an out-of-state program have an additional requirement: Within three years of their initial licensure, they must complete three hours of continuing education in domestic violence and one and a half hours in pediatric head abuse trauma.

Nurses who have practiced out of state and who are transitioning to Kentucky have a slightly different set of licensure steps to follow:

  • Submitting an application and paying a $165 fee to the Kentucky Board of Nursing
  • Completing a criminal background check
  • Filling out a fingerprint card after paying a $14.75 fee to the Kentucky State Police
  • Paying $9 to take and pass a 35-question state jurisprudence exam
  • Verifying their original license
  • Sending an official transcript from the nursing program to the Kentucky Board of Nursing (if they graduated from a school in California, Connecticut, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Kansas, Pennsylvania or Washington)

Steps to Renewing a KY License

Kentucky licenses must be renewed annually for $65. In the year leading up to renewal, RNs must have completed one of the following to keep up-to-date in the field:

  • Fourteen contact hours of continuing education
  • Seven contact hours and a nursing employment evaluation
  • National certification
  • Research project
  • Publication of a nursing article
  • Nursing presentation
  • Preceptor service
  • Specified college coursework

Steps to Advanced Practice Licensure in Kentucky

Advanced practice licensure in Kentucky is applicable to four groups: nurse practitioners, nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives and clinical nurse specialists.

Nurses licensed in Kentucky or a compact state who are nationally certified by a board-approved body can become licensed as both an RN and an APRN by submitting a $330 fee for the upgrade. Additionally, they must:

  • Complete post-basic nursing education
  • Complete state and federal criminal background checks
  • Fill out a fingerprint card
  • Arrange for their official transcripts to be sent to the Kentucky Board of Nursing
  • Show proof that they are nationally certified
  • Verify their original RN license
  • Pass the state jurisprudence exam

In order to renew an APRN license, advanced practice registered nurses need five hours of continuing education contact hours in pharmacology. In addition to paying the $65 to renew their RN license, they must pay $55 for each APRN specialty they are renewing.

More details on APRN licensure can be found at the Kentucky Board of Nursing.

Nursing Numbers: Pay & Employment in Kentucky

It pays to be a registered nurse in Kentucky, but salary and employment opportunities can vary from city to city. For a closer look at how nurses across Kentucky fare, as well as how they compare to nurses across the nation, review the tables below:

Top-Paying Areas for RNs in Kentucky

AreaHourly Median WageAnnual Median Wage
Louisville-Jefferson County KY-IN$29.18$60,690
Elizabethtown$28.67$59,640
Lexington-Fayette$28.23$58,720
Bowling Green$26.89$55,930
South Central Kentucky nonmetropolitan area$26.70$55,540
West Central Kentucky nonmetropolitan area$26.26$54,630
East Kentucky nonmetropolitan area$25.30$52,620
Owensboro$25.21$52,430
West Kentucky nonmetropolitan area$23.35$48,570

Source: US Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2014

Kentucky vs. National Numbers

YearAnnual salary(25th percentile)Annual salary(median)Annual salary(75th percentile)Annual salary(25th percentile)Annual salary(median)Annual salary(75th percentile)
Registered Nurse$48,310$57,120$67,490$0$54,620$66,640$81,080
Certified Nurse Midwife$78,660$89,320$103,000$0$82,580$96,970$114,090
Nurse Anesthetist$119,200$142,870$168,680$0$132,380$153,780$181,860
Nurse Practitioner$78,720$89,510$102,340$0$82,720$95,350$113,470
  • Annual Salary (25th percentile)
  • Annual Salary (median)
  • Annual Salary (75th percentile)
TypeKentuckyNational
Registered Nurse43,7402,687,310
Certified Nurse Midwife1905,110
Nurse Anesthetist1,10036,590
Nurse Practitioner2,190122,050
TypeKentuckyNational
Registered Nurse59,6203,238,400
Certified Nurse Midwife07,700
Nurse Anesthetist043,900
Nurse Practitioner0147,300
TypeKentuckyNational
Registered Nurse2,150105,260
Certified Nurse Midwife0290
Nurse Anesthetist01,560
Nurse Practitioner05,850

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2014 and Projections Central

Kentucky Nursing Resources

Kentuckiana Holistic Nurses Association

Nurses interested in the mind-body approach to wellness can join the Kentuckiana Holistic Nurses Association. This regional branch of the American Holistic Nurses Association has RN members who are also reiki masters, BodyTalk practitioners, aroma therapists and experts in multiple other holistic health practices.

Kentucky Board of Nursing

The Kentucky Board of Nursing provides licenses for nurses in the state. The website is designed to facilitate the licensure process for new and veteran nurses alike.

Kentucky Coalition of Nurse Practitioners and Nurse Midwives

KCNPNM provides continuing education, professional publications and a career center to its members. It is also heavily involved in legislative advocacy, pushing for advanced practice nurses to play a stronger role in providing healthcare services to citizens.

Kentucky Emergency Nurses Association

The Kentucky Emergency Nurses Association represents the needs of emergency nurses around the state. KYENA’s national body is the Emergency Nurses Association.

Kentucky Nurses Association

The Kentucky Nurses Association is a full-service professional nursing organization that has existed since 1906, offering credentials, career services and continuing education to members. Its national body, the American Nurses Association, plays a strong role in advocating for healthcare policy; the Kentucky Nurses Association does the same on the state level.

Kentucky School Nurses Association

Nurses who work in schools can become members of the Kentucky School Nurses Association. Scholarships and continuing education courses are available to members.

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