The regulatory and legal aspects of nursing in Illinois

If you’re caring, passionate about science and can think critically on the job, a career in nursing could be the right choice for you. A career in nursing can provide a sense of purpose. As a registered nurse (RN), you’ll be deeply involved in patient care and have the opportunity to give a lot back to society. It’s one of the most challenging but rewarding careers out there.

This article explores the different aspects of becoming a nurse, specifically in Illinois, the Prairie State, where there is a growing demand for RNs. We will cover:

  • How to become a nurse in Illinois
  • Graduating from a nursing program
  • How to obtain licensure as an RN candidate
  • Passing the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN)
  • The legal rights and responsibilities affecting nurses
  • Nurse liability 

How to become a nurse in Illinois

If you’re wondering how to become a nurse in Illinois, now is an ideal time to find out, as the demand for RNs is growing fast across the state. Reputable institutions such as Elmhurst University are a great source of information regarding everything you need to know about becoming a nurse. They cover all the steps required to become a qualified RN as well as answers to those burning questions, such as what is the average nurse salary in Illinois.

Elmhurst University offers a fast-track option for nursing students who already hold a prior bachelor’s degree in any discipline. Their accredited program focuses on evidence-based practices for common and complex health problems, alongside the ethical and leadership considerations within community healthcare. This prepares students to obtain licensure and become practicing registered nurses.

You can benefit from the high demand for nurses in the region

Considering a nursing career in Illinois and the greater Midwest region is a great idea. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates nurse employment to increase by 6% between 2022 and 2032. While nurse employment is expected to rise nationwide, Illinois is expected to be short nearly 15,000 RNs by 2025. This is due to the state’s aging nurse workforce, with more than half (52%) of its nurses over 55 and more than a quarter (27%) planning to retire in the next five years.

The American Nurses Association is urging the Illinois Health Committee to address the issue at all levels of nursing. While that might seem like a cause for concern, it’s actually a great opportunity for the next generation of nurses to develop their careers. The statistics clearly show the state is a land of opportunity for those considering a career in nursing, but Illinois isn’t the only state facing healthcare shortages. The greater Midwest region presents a remarkable opportunity for aspiring nurses, with 92% of the counties in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri and Wisconsin facing shortages.

Graduate from a nursing program

If you want to become an RN in Illinois, the first step is to graduate from an accredited nursing program. Typically, new RN graduates hold either a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) or an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN).

ADN programs are usually offered by community colleges. They educate candidates in core nursing knowledge and can be completed in approximately two years. BSN programs traditionally require candidates to complete four years of schooling. After successfully completing the program, an entry-level nursing degree is granted by senior colleges and universities.

Earning an ADN has historically been the fastest route to becoming an RN. That’s why many aspiring nurses prefer it over the BSN. There is evidence to support that RNs with BSN degrees positively impact patient outcomes, and the more detailed level of education is increasingly desirable among employers who believe it better meets patient needs.

In addition, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing recognizes the BSN as the minimum degree for entry-level nursing practice, which has led to greater demand for BSN-qualified nursing candidates. The BSN gives you the opportunity to provide better patient care in addition to opening the door to more job opportunities and a higher earning potential when compared to the ADN.

For those aspiring nurses with prior bachelor’s degrees, there is also the option of earning an Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN). The ABSN is an intensive, full-time program that enables you to complete your studies in as little as 12 to 18 months.

Of course, the nursing program you decide to pursue is a matter of personal choice, with many factors informing the decision. Beyond the cost and location of a program, it’s worth noting the accreditation status, length and clinical placement support of any program when considering your options. 

How to obtain licensure as an RN candidate

The most important thing to do after graduating from your nursing program is to obtain state licensure as an RN candidate. This is the second step to becoming a nurse in Illinois.

All nurses, whether registered, licensed practical or vocational, must be currently licensed to practice nursing in their state of practice. The licensure protects the public and ensures the nurse has completed a state-approved nursing school. It also ensures the nurse has passed their licensure examination and has continued to renew their license every two years without any suspensions or revocations.

Practicing without a current and valid license is illegal. 

Apply for RN licensure by examination in Illinois

You can apply online for RN licensure by examination through the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR). The IDFPR licenses nursing professionals, including Registered Professional Nurse (RN), Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN), Advanced Practice Nurse (APN) and Advanced Practice Registered Nurse — Full Practice Authority (APRN-FPA).

For your application to be successful, you must provide proof of graduation from a licensed practical nursing education program, verification of a fingerprint-based background check from the Illinois State Police or its designated agent and the required fees. It’s important to note that you must apply for RN licensure by examination for the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN).

Pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN)

To obtain licensure, each state requires RN candidates to pass the NCLEX-RN. Passing the exam is the third step to becoming a nurse after applying for RN licensure by examination in Illinois. The exam evaluates candidates based on the knowledge and skills they have learned to provide safe and effective entry-level nursing care.

The NCLEX-RN covers four areas:

  • Safe and effective care environment
  • Health promotion and maintenance
  • Psychosocial integrity
  • Physiological integrity

You can register for the NCLEX-RN after applying for RN licensure with the IDFPR. Once you’ve done that, follow these steps:

  • Register via the Pearson VUE website using a credit, debit or prepaid VISA, MasterCard or American Express card.
  • The IDFPR is notified of your registration and then determines your eligibility.
  • Pearson VUE notifies you when the IDFPR has approved your exam registration.
  • You can schedule your exam online through Pearson VUE once you’ve received its notification.

It’s recommended you review the NCLEX test plans before your exam appointment. The test plans provide an in-depth look at the exam content, administration, item writing and clinical judgment. They are updated every three years to ensure entry-level nursing competency measurement is fair, comprehensive and current. 

Find RN employment in Illinois

After you’ve passed the NCLEX-RN, you can find a job in Illinois as a license-pending RN. This is the fourth and final step to becoming a nurse in the state.

Practicing under the supervision of an RN or advanced practice registered nurse (APRN), you can work as a license-pending RN until your RN license is issued by the IDFPR.

A good way to find work as a license-pending RN is to network with your clinical placement preceptors. Another good way to find jobs is to search for them using the American Nurses Association Illinois and Illinois Nurses Association online career centers.

You may also consider job options outside of hospital settings. For those seeking non-hospital RN employment, the following careers are great options to consider: school nurse, hospice nurse, ambulatory care nurse, registered nurse health coach, informatics nurse, legal nurse consultant and public health nurse.

Modern technology has enabled the delivery of remote health treatment, monitoring and care. If the idea of working as a nurse in a remote setting appeals to you, then a career as a telehealth nurse could be just what you’re looking for. It’s recommended that you gain in-person experience before making the move to digital-first healthcare delivery. It’s necessary to have expert clinical skills that can transfer to a virtual environment to be a successful telehealth nurse. Most employers will require telehealth applicants to have some years of bedside experience.

As a licensed nurse in Illinois, you must renew your credentials every two years. All RN licenses expire on May 31 of every even-number year (i.e., 2024, 2026, etc.), regardless of the date of issue. Prior to each renewal, you’ll be required to complete 20 hours of continuing education.

The legal rights and responsibilities affecting nurses

For aspiring nurses, there is a lot to learn about the legal rights and responsibilities of the nursing profession. Given the serious and often sensitive nature of the work, nursing is a highly regulated profession. Identifying the legal issues affecting staff and clients can be challenging for aspiring nurses, but fortunately, help is at hand. identifies the following as some of the most common legal issues affecting staff and clients:

  • Licensure
  • The safeguarding of clients’ personal possessions and valuables
  • Mandatory reporting
  • Malpractice
  • Documentation
  • Negligence
  • The acceptance of an assignment
  • The provision of staff and client education relating to legal issues
  • Compliance with and adherence to other laws

Nurses will first gain an understanding of the above while completing their initial nursing degree and will supplement their knowledge and skills when preparing for the NCLEX-RN exam. For the ‘Legal Rights and Responsibilities’ section of the NCLEX-RN exam, nurses are expected to demonstrate the following knowledge and skills:

  • Identify legal issues affecting the client, such as refusing treatment
  • Identify and manage the client’s valuables according to facility/agency policy
  • Recognize limitations of self/others and seek assistance
  • Review facility policy and state mandates prior to agreeing to serve as an interpreter for staff or primary health care provider
  • Educate client/staff on legal issues
  • Report client conditions as required by law, such as communicable diseases, abuse/neglect and gunshot wounds
  • Report unsafe practice of health care personnel and intervene as appropriate, such as improper care, substance abuse and staffing practices
  • Provide care within the legal scope of practice

In addition to the above, nurses must also be familiar with a variety of legal terms. These include, but are not limited to, common law, statutory law, constitutional law, administrative law, criminal law, civil law, torts, liability, respondeat superior, false imprisonment and defamation.

Nurse liability 

There are good reasons why nurses should know the legal rights and responsibilities affecting them and their clients. Chief among those reasons is liability. Put simply, liability is a vulnerability and a legal responsibility.

Nursing liability is a constant risk for all practicing nurses and their employers. Nurses can be liable for civil damages due to negligence, as can their employers. Nurses’ involvement in medical care exposes them to potential malpractice claims. While they’re only named as defendants in a small minority of medical malpractice claims, the risk to a nurse’s finances and their nursing license from a lawsuit is high.

The ANA recommends that nurses carry their own professional liability insurance since their employer’s policy may not be sufficient for some claims. Forgoing liability insurance can leave a nurse vulnerable to lawsuits. Considering the average cost of a malpractice claim for an RN is $210,513, it could potentially drain a nurse’s finances.

Nurses are at risk of liability at all points in the nursing process. It’s recommended that nurses have professional liability insurance to help mitigate that risk.

Putting it all together

This article has explored the many different aspects of becoming a nurse in Illinois. Nursing is a popular profession, but it takes a lot of dedication, hard work and patience to become a nurse.

To become an RN, you must first graduate from a nursing program. The quickest way to do that historically has been by completing an ADN program in two years, but BSN degrees are increasingly preferred by employers, and ABSN programs make it possible to graduate in less than two years, provided you already hold a bachelor’s degree.

You must then obtain state licensure. To obtain your state license, you’ll first need to apply for RN licensure by examination in Illinois. To do that, you must provide proof of graduation, verify your fingerprint-based background check and pay the required fees to the IDFPR.

Once you’ve applied for RN licensure with the IDFPR, you can register for the NCLEX-RN exam. When you pass the NCLEX-RN exam, you’ll then be licensed to practice nursing in the state of Illinois. You can then search for nursing jobs as a license-pending RN.

In addition to the steps outlined above, nurses must also demonstrate knowledge and skills pertaining to the legal issues that affect them and their clients. Knowing the legal rights and responsibilities of the nursing profession is essential for any aspiring nurse.

Considering the process of becoming a qualified, licensed RN and the nature of the work itself, being a nurse is not for the faint of heart. Nursing is one of the most challenging but rewarding careers there is, and there’s a reason why many people consider it a worthy and noble profession.

Now that you know what it takes to become a nurse in Illinois, are you ready to take the next step?

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