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].