Boards of Nursing – The Basics

This July I will perform a ritual I have performed every other year for 34 years.

I will open a folder and double check that I have at least 30 continuing education hours. I will then write a check to the California Board of Registered Nursing, thereby renewing my license for two years.

And I won’t give another thought to the CA BRN.

Should I be thinking about them?

I’m embarrassed to admit it, but until recently, when I became aware of the Amanda Trujillo case in Arizona, I actually knew very little about what my state Board of Nursing actually did.  The one thing I did know? They didn’t exist for my benefit, they were there for the protection of the public.

I decided to find some information on the National Council of State Boards of Nursing website.

Boards of nursing: (a) approve nursing programs and enforce licensing and the nurse practice act, (b) develop standards of practice, policies, and administrative rules and regulations, and (c) take action against the license of any nurse demonstrating unsafe practice. (National Council of State Boards of Nursing [NCSBN], 2012)

Turns out my one piece of BON knowledge was correct. Boards of nursing (BONs) were created over a century ago to ” to protect the public from the unsafe, incompetent or unethical practice of nursing.” (NCSBN, 2011) They ensure those who carry a nursing license have met at least the minimum qualifications set for a beginning practitioner, and they specify who can legally use the term “registered nurse.” BONs  give “clear legal authorization for the scope of practice for the profession.” (NCSBN, 2011)

Where do the boards get their power? From the Nurse Practice Acts of the individual states. Nurse Practice Acts  define what a state’s BON will look like. Nurse Practice Acts can also be pretty vague. The BONs write rules and regulations “to clarify or make statutes more specific.” (NCSBN, 2011)

The BONs also disciplines nurses for actions that place the public in danger. Actions that fall under the general categories of unprofessional conduct, incompetent practice, unethical practice, and criminal convictions (NCSBN, 2011) can be met with anything from reprimand to revocation of the license.

So, while we may not consciously be thinking about our state boards of nursing, their existence informs everything we do as registered nurses.


The National Council of State Boards of Nursing (2012). Boards of Nursing and you. Retrieved from

National Council of State Boards of Nursing. (2011). What you need to know about nursing licensure and boards of nursing [Brochure].

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3 Responses to Boards of Nursing – The Basics

  1. Susan says:

    Hey Kim!

    you know the one thing you don’t learn at nursing school (at least my school) is what to do if you get into trouble with the BON. I think people it’s like the police-people never think they’ll be on the wrong side of it. And most probably won’t be. But if you do, guilty or not, it might mean the end of your license and the end of your career. I should put together a power point on what to do if anyone ever gets that, “you are being investigated” letter. One of the things I learned in NJ (not from personal experience, fortunately) is that getting a DUI is automatic loss of your nursing license, as is any misdemeanor conviction involving alcohol or drugs. Much harsher penalty than what doctors get, too.

  2. Fascinating, ain’t it? Like you, Amanda Trujillo’s badgering by the Arizona Board of Nursing made me really sit down and think about what I know about BONs. It seems I didn’t know much except I was aware they punished nurses who did bad things. I’ve always assumed that those nurses I saw listed in my state’s newsletter being reprimanded or losing their licenses must have been guilty. Now, I look at those lists with a much more jaded eye. The BON is there to protect the public but I would like to think my BON would protect me too. I think it’s time we all pay more attention to our BONs than just writing that check every couple of years.

  3. Cocoa says:

    True, LPN and RN are two separate dereegs. You can chose to jump right into the RN course, but you (and generally a few others) will be doing so without the benefit of any prior nursing knowledge, and you will find it harder to keep up and make decent grades. To take the Associates Degree RN class, you will go to school full-time for 2 years, and upon passing the state boards test, you will receive your RN license then. You can chose to continue for your bachelor’s degree if you want but, unless you plan on teaching or going even further (like nurse anesthetist) having a BSN wont mean squat. If you want to work in a hospital environment, any department you please, being an associates degree RN is all you need. BUT .if 2 years is too long to wait before you can start earning money, consider the LPN course. It is 1-year of full time school, after which time you take the state board exam and get your LPN license. In the school setting, the major difference between RN and LPN is that the RN focuses more on legalities, paperwork, and leadership. The LPN focuses more on the basics of patient care. In the HOSPITAL setting, the RN gets a lot more respect and a lot more fields offered to her. When I was an LPN, I was allowed to work the Emergency Rooms, and eventually ended up specializing in the Intensive Care Units, where I functioned almost indistinguishably alongside the RNs. Nowadays, LPNs seem to be relegated to just basic patient care on the medical/surgical floors. So the answer is, you can either jump right into the ADN RN class, or into the Vocational LPN Nursing class. A lot of people I know prefer to take the LPN class so that they can start earning a paycheck sooner, and (at their leisure) they begin working on the prerequisites for the RN class. You dont have to start as an LPN to become an RN, but you’ll find that it helps to have that much more knowledge and experience behind you when you DO start the RN class. I know it’s confusing but I hope I helped.