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A Guide to Nursing in California

With 3,427 miles of coastline, it is almost impossible to list all the things to visit. San Diego is a fun city to live and work in and the beaches are gorgeous. L.A. gives you the opportunity to rub elbows with the rich and famous. The La Brea tar pits are essential. Go north and visit San Francisco and drive over the Golden Gate Bridge and visit the redwoods at Muir Woods National Monument.

If you are a registered nurse (or are thinking of becoming one) read on to find the information you need, from licensing info, continuing education requirements, job & salary outlook, top hospitals, and nursing associations. Let us help you find your dream job!

In this article, we will cover:

Licensing information

Below are the fees for becoming a nurse in California whether you are a first-time nurse or are moving to California from another state. For more information visit the licensing page.

Licensing fee by examination (first-time nurses):

  • NCLEX fee: $200

  • Application fee: $300

  • Fingerprint processing fee: $49

Licensing fee by endorsement (already have RN licensure):

  • Application fee: $350 (RN); $500 (APRN)

  • Temporary permit: $100

  • Fingerprint processing fee: $49

  • License verification: $30

License renewal fees:

  • Application fee: $190 (RN); $150 (APRN)

*Fees are subject to change.

If you or your spouse is in the military and is applying for a nursing license, applications may be expedited depending on your situation. California will waive the renewal fee, continuing education requirements, and any other fees for any military member that is deployed, which is another huge benefit to nursing in California.

California legislation is pending for becoming a nursing compact state, which allows nurses to hold multi-state licenses. Check the NCSBN website to stay updated.


Steps for renewing a California nursing license

  1. Verify the status of your license Visit the Verification page to confirm your license. Your first California RN license is issued for two birthdays, not two years, and will expire the last day of the month following your birth date. From that date on, it will expire every two years.

  2. Complete your California nursing continuing education requirements before your license expires You can complete your nursing CEUs online, on your schedule, and 100% free with Incredible Health.

  3. Go to the California Board of Nursing to enter your renewal application Visit the Renewal Information page for specifics.


Continuing education requirements

RN/LPN/APRN: 30 contact hours every 2 years

Incredible Health offers ANCC-accredited continuing education courses for nurses in all 50 states, 100% free and online. The California Board of Registered Nursing accepts courses that are ANCC accredited.

Job and salary outlook for nurses in California

Due to the shortage of nurses, healthcare professionals are in high demand. The Bureau of Labor and Statistics estimates the profession will grow by about 9% between 2020-2030. The annual mean salary is $120,560.

We can also help you check out salary estimates to help determine if California is the right state for you.

[ MORE: Average nurse salary in California ]


Top hospitals in California

If you’re not already picking up the phone to call movers, maybe this list of the top 10 best hospitals in California will sway you in the right direction. Here are the top 10 hospitals (all of which are members of the Magnet Recognition Program®) according to U.S. News and World Report:

  • UCLA Medical Center – Los Angeles, CA: An academic medical center, UCLA Medical Center is the #6 best hospital in the country. It is part of a network of hospitals and medical practices throughout Southern California. Here are some highlights of the health system:

    • Animal-assisted therapy through the UCLA People-Animal Connection

    • Built within seismic safety requirements, meaning it can remain operational during an earthquake or other national disaster

    • National Magnet hospital

    • Level 1 trauma center in the heart of Los Angeles

  • Cedars-Sinai Medical Center – Los Angeles, CA: Part of a network of more than 40 different locations and an institution in Los Angeles – it was founded over 100 years ago!

    • Multidisciplinary pain center

    • Comprehensive women’s center

    • Movement Disorders Program

    • Designated Magnet hospital

  • UCSF Medical Center – San Francisco, CA: This hospital was ranked #7 on the list of best hospitals in the country! They offer:

    • UCSF Pregnancy and Postpartum Mood Assessment Clinic to treat anxiety and depression during and after pregnancy

    • Obesity and weight management clinic and bariatric surgery center

    • Center for Integrative Medicine, offering modern treatments with globally minded healing practices

    • Designated Magnet hospital

    • State of the art researc center at UCSF Mission Bay, as well as a women’s hospital and a comprehensive center center

  • Stanford Health Care – Stanford, CA: This is a renowned academic medical center located just outside San Francisco. They just completed a brand-new hospital in 2019, so you’d be in brand new digs!

    • Pediatric hospital at the forefront of medicine using virtual reality technology in children with heart defects

    • Designated Magnet hospital

    • Home to advanced cardiac procedures that preserve healthy heart tissue

  • Keck Medical Center of USC – Los Angeles, CA: Yet another medical center in Los Angeles, this hospital is nationally ranked in 9 different specialties and is a comprehensive facility.

  • UC San Diego Jacobs Medical Center – La Jolla, CA: If hearts and lungs are your thing, consider UC San Diego. This hospital, located in one of the prettiest cities in California, is nationally ranked in:

    • Neurology and neurosurgery

    • Pulmonology and lung surgery

    • Cardiology and cardiac surgery

    • Geriatrics

  • Scripps La Jolla Hospital – La Jolla, CA: Located just outside of beautiful San Diego, California, Scripps La Jolla Hospital is nationally ranked in several specialties, to include:

    • Geriatrics

    • Diabetes care

    • Gastroenterology

  • UC Davis Medical Center – Sacramento, CA: Located in a state-of-the-art facility in Sacramento, UC Davis is a teaching hospital that is nationally ranked in 15 different specialties! They include:

    • Cancer

    • Diabetes and endocrinology

    • Ear, nose and throat

    • Designated as a magnet hospital

    • Cardiology and cardiac surgery

  • Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian – Newport Beach, CA: If you love hanging on the beach on your days off, this may be your answer! Hoag Memorial Hospital is a nationally ranked in four adult specialties and is the #8 hospital in California. The ranked specialties are:

    • Neurology

    • Orthopedics

    • Gastroenterology and GI surgery

    • Gynecology

  • John Muir Health-Walnut Creek Medical Center – Walnut Creek, CA: Nationally ranked in 4 adult specialties and rated high performing in 4 adult specialties and 12 procedures and conditions. It is a general medical and surgical facility. The ranked specialties are:

    • Geriatrics

    • Gynecology

    • Orthopedics

    • Diabetes & endocrinology

    • Gastroenterology & GI surgery

These hospitals are all awarded by the Magnet Recognition Program®. What exactly does that mean? Magnet status is awarded by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) and is considered the “gold standard” for excellence in nursing practice and care. Hospitals must meet certain criteria and apply to be designated. There are currently 475 magnet hospitals in the United States, and 14 of those hospitals are located in the state of California.


🏥 Registered Nurse - Pediatric Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit (CVICU)

San Francisco, CA | $126k-$190k/year

🏥 Registered Nurse - Critical Care (ICU)

San Diego, CA | $46k-$150k/year

Get interview requests from top hospitals for hundreds more jobs like these.



Nursing organizations and associations in California

Once you become a registered nurse (or even if you’re in the process), joining a nursing organization or association will give you access to networking, job opportunities, and a wealth of information shared between fellow nurses. Here are a few of the organizations and associations for nurses in California:

Golden State Nursing Foundation

The Golden State Nursing Foundation provides and promotes educational programs for nurses to improve patient care delivery. According to their website, the foundation provides scholarships and programs to help prepare nurses for the changes in the delivery of health care, supporting innovative practice in nursing, and preserving the local history of nursing.

California Nursing Students Association

This is a chapter of the National Student Nurses Association (NSNA) and is made up of approximately 5,000 members throughout the state. This association gives nursing students a voice on the national and state level, as well as numerous educational and professional growth opportunities to make the most of their nursing careers.

Association of California Nurse Leaders

The mission statement of this association is “We provide lifelong learning opportunities to meet the needs of current and emerging nurse leaders and serve as the primary resource for nurse leaders regarding health care issues.” What more could you want from an organization?! If you’re a nurse leader or aspiring to be one, check this association out.

California School Nurses Organization

If you’re a school nurse, this is a great resource for you. They view school nurses as “the essential link between health and academic success.” Through this organization, you can find career opportunities, advocacy for your career, and many resources for emerging and current healthcare issues.

California Emergency Nurses Association

This is the California chapter of the Emergency Nurses Association (ENA). They provide a voice for emergency nurses in the state of California, as well as a variety of continuing education opportunities and networking events to share the latest in evidence-based nursing practice.

Check out the comprehensive list of national organizations as well.


Basic steps for licensing and certification

Step 1: Education

Attend an accredited nursing school to earn either an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). An ADN will take between 18 and 24 months to complete, while you can expect to spend roughly four years to earn a BSN. If you already have an ADN, there is an ADN to BSN bridge program that allows you to earn a BSN in 12-18 months. There is also an RN to BSN bridge which takes three semesters of nursing courses to be completed in one year. These programs will save you time and money. The more education you have, the better your chances of landing your dream job.

[More: Best Nursing Schools in California]

Step 2: Licensing

When you are six weeks away from graduation, you can apply to sit for the NCLEX-RN exam. There are 75 to 265 questions on the NCLEX-RN with a five-hour time limit for completion. If you do not pass the NCLEX-RN on your first attempt, you must wait 45 days before you can try again.

The NCLEX includes questions on the following topics to test nursing candidates’ knowledge:

1. Safe and effective care environment

2. Health promotion and maintenance

3. Psychosocial integrity

4. Physiological integrity

Step 3: Experience

This step in the process is to gain hands-on experience. This will provide you with invaluable opportunities to work with patients making you attractive to future employers.

Step 4: Certification

The final step is to obtain certifications for your chosen career. Requirements for earning a certification vary so it is important to check with the governing body for information. Incredible Health offers free courses in order to obtain or renew certification requirements. Create a free account to access professional development mandates and get instant certificates.

Contact information

California Board of Registered Nursing

Phone: (916) 322-3350


Mailing address

Board of Registered Nursing

PO Box 944210

Sacramento, CA 94244-2100

Physical address

1747 N. Market Blvd

Suite 150

Sacramento, CA 95834-1924

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