Nursing Programs in the US

Nursing Programs in the US

Need help deciphering what an LPN, ADN or BSN means in terms of nursing educational paths? The US credentialing letters can scare students away, making a nursing degree seem foreign and daunting. We have broken down the various nursing programs to provide you with a clear understand of each nursing path.

Choosing to study nursing in the USA will give you the opportunity to study in state-of-the-art clinical facilities and train under the guidance of leading lecturers in the field. As an international student nurse, you will train in acute care hospitals, hospice care centres and outreach clinics. Studying in the US, you will have the opportunity to learn from experts, and be surrounded by students and professionals from various cultural, ethnic, religious, socioeconomic, and educational backgrounds.

There are a wide variety of nursing courses in the different educational institutions across all the states in the US, providing students with the opportunity to choose the place and path that’s right for them. The vast array of nursing options may seem overwhelming, but once you understand the different programs you can start to explore the courses available in your chosen universities.

Nursing Programs Available in the US

LPN or LVN Programs

The Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) and Licensed Vocational Nurse (LVN) training programs are approximately one year long. An LPN/LVN works under the direction of a registered nurse. LPN/LVN programs are offered at many colleges throughout the United States. These programs do not typically require prerequisite classes. However, some schools do require a minimum TOEFL, SAT or ACT test score. A LVN/LPN nurse provides basic patient care, such as taking vital signs and patient monitoring. The state requires an LPN to pass a national licensing exam for state certification following training completion. According to the US Department of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage of licensed practical and licensed vocational nurse is $39,030 US.

ADN Programs

The Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) training program can take between 15 months and two years to complete. This program is offered at many community colleges throughout the United States. ADN programs usually require students to complete pre-requisite classes prior to enrolment. This associate degree program focuses on technical training. An ADN registered nurse can treat, educate patients, and provide emotional support to patients' family members. ADN programs are only available in the United States and enrolment for international students is available. Associate Degree Nurses must pass a national licensing examination, known as the National Council Licensure Examination, or NCLEX-RN, to obtain a nursing license. According to the US Department of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage of ADN registered nurses is $67,490 US.

BSN Programs

The Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) is a four-year program offered at many colleges and universities throughout the United States. One example is Felician College, New York State, where nurses are encouraged to use knowledge from their studies in a practical healthcare setting. Some programs conclude with a Clinical Residency to support the transition from trainee to nurse.

The BSN program is popular among international students because it offers strong job prospects and a good salary upon completion. The demand for BSNs is high as the current generation retires, meaning there are lots of job opportunities across the US.

Accelerated BSN Programs

These programs are often referred to as second-degree programs and are generally geared towards students who have received a prior degree. These accelerated baccalaureate programs offer the quickest route to becoming a registered nurse and commonly run 12–18 months long. These programs are competitively driven and are fast paced but many international students enjoy this type of learning environment. A couple schools that offer accelerated BSN programs include the following

Adelphi University offers an Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing program that enables students with a bachelor’s degree to obtain a BS in nursing in only 14 months. The program is for assiduous students who are capable of keeping up with fast paced teaching from highly regarded professors. The students will learn from a combination of lectures, research, and clinical studies. The program requires full attentiveness and a complete devotion to learning. It is so immersive that Adelphi advises participants to not work or have any potential preoccupations during the time of the course. However, it is more than worthwhile, as you can become a practicing nurse in just over a year.

Felician University also offers a full-time accelerated nursing program which takes 18 months to complete. A Bachelor of Science Degree in Nursing is awarded upon completion and at the same time prepares international student to take the NCLEX-RN exam.

RN to BSN Programs

These programs are designed for the ADNs who want to convert their studies to a Bachelor of Science (BSN) qualification. Programs are available both on campus and online. RN to BSN online programs are a popular choice among students who want to keep learning while working.

MSN Programs

He Master of Science Nursing programs (MSN) incorporate a variety of advanced nursing disciplines into a single course. There are several work opportunities available for graduates including: Adult Nurse Practitioner (ANP), Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP), Neonatal Nurse Practitioner (NNP), Nurse Educator (NE), Paediatric Nurse Practitioner (PNP), and Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner (WHNP). The median salary for those holding a MSN degree in the US is around $60,000-150,000 US depending on the specialty.

CRNA Programs

The Certified Registered Nurse Anaesthetist program (CRNA) typically lasts from 1 to 2 years. CRNA students learn anaesthesia techniques, test theory, and how to apply knowledge to clinical problems. A nurse with a CRNA specialization can find some of the highest paying nursing jobs in the US, with many earning around $160,000-250,000 US a year depending on the state.

DNP Programs

Many MSN programs are being phased-out and are being replaced by Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) programs. These DNP programs primarily focus on training students in research methods including, statistics and data analysis, history and philosophy of nursing science, and leadership skills. Most DNP programs require 25 credit hours more than an MSN, and typically last between 18 and 30 months. Many DNP graduates go on to earn over $135,830 US a year.

The Right Choice for You

While the many different options for studying a degree in Nursing in the US may seem overwhelming, it means that each student can choose the course that’s right for them. Some students want to gain practical experience as quickly as possible, whereas others want to focus on their education and seek a high-level job when they graduate. Think about your priorities before exploring the different courses available in the many institutions across the US.

How to Work In the U.S as a Foreign-Educated Nurse

8-Steps to Work in the U.S. As A Nurse

There are eight key steps foreign-educated nurses will need to take in order to obtain a position as an RN in a U.S. hospital.

  1. Meet the educational requirements
  2. Take and pass an English language proficiency test, if mandated.
  3. Obtain credential evaluation
  4. Pass your National Council Licensing Examination-Registered Nurse (NCLEX – RN)
  5. Find a nursing recruiting agency or US-based employer
  6. Apply and obtain an RN immigrant visa/green card
  7. RN visa interview and medical examination
  8. Accept an RN position


First and foremost, international educated nurses must meet basic education requirements. These include:

  • Graduation from an accredited Registered Nursing program
  • Licensing as a Registered Nurse (RN)
  • Experience practicing as an RN for at least two years

Licensed practical nurses, licensed vocational nurses, and patient care assistants are not eligible to transfer their licenses to the United States.

Find U.S. Accredited RN Programs Here

While the aforementioned are required, most states also require foreign-educated nurses to complete a Foreign Educated Nurses (FEN) refresher course. The course consists of 120 hours in the classroom and 120 hours of clinical practice under the supervision of a licensed Registered Nurse.

English Language Proficiency Tests

After meeting the initial education requirements, some foreign educated nurses must take and pass the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), the Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC) or the International English Language Testing System (IELTS). This will vary depending on the country of origin and results are sent directly to the state nursing board.

Nurses who went to nursing school in the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Canada (except Quebec), or Ireland are exempt as are those whose spoken language in nursing school was English and/or the nursing school textbooks were written in English.

Pass The NCLEX Examination

After ensuring you meet the education and language requirements it’s time to apply for the NCLEX in the state of intended employment. Registration with Pearson Vue is required and costs $200 plus additional foreign fees.

According to the webpage, NCLEX examinations are currently administered in Australia, Canada, England, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Japan, Mexico, Philippines, Puerto Rico, and Taiwan.

Credentials Evaluation and Reports

The Commission on Graduates of Foreign Nursing Schools (CGFNS) is a company that is employed by State Boards of Nursing to ensure that applicants meet the basic requirements and are fit to take the NCLEX.

Established in 1977 after a thorough investigation of the immigration of foreign-born and educated registered nurses, the U.S. Department of State and Labor developed the Commission with a dual purpose: to ensure safe patient care to Americans and to help prevent the exploitation of graduates from foreign nursing schools who are employed in the United States to practice.

This company specifically will go through all nursing school transcripts and education history from your home country. While this company is the most popular and most well known - it is expensive and each state requires different levels of credentialing.

There are three main credentialing reports:

  1. Credentials Evaluation Service Professional Report
  2. CGFNS Certification Program
  3. Visa Credentials Assessment

Credentials Evaluation Service Professional Report

This report is less involved and cheaper than the Certificate Program or VisaScreen. It provides the basic information for the State Board of Nursing and only a handful of states accept this.

Below are the requirements you’ll need to mee:

  • English Requirement
  • Secondary School Documents
  • Licensure Documents from your Home Country
  • Nursing Education Documents from your Home Country
  • $350 Fee

CGFNS Certification Program

This evaluation is the same as above but requires the applicant to take the CGFNS Qualifying Exam.

Here are some specifics:

  • Everything in a Credentials Evaluation Service Professional Report
  • CGFNS Qualifying Exam
  • $445 Fee

The CGFNS Qualifying Exam helps states determine if foreign-educated nurses are well suited to care for patients in America. According to the CGFNS web page, individuals must possess a wide variety of nursing knowledge.

Applicants are required to have a minimum number of classroom and clinical hours in required fields such as paediatric nursing, psychiatric nursing, neonatal nursing, and adult medical/surgical nursing.

The examination is held three times a year at over 40 testing centers across the globe. Individuals may travel to other countries, if needed, in order to take the exam.

Find U.S. Accredited RN Programs Here

Visa Screen: Visa Credentials Assessment

The same requirements as the CGFNS Certification Program but will qualify the individual for a Work Visa after successful completion of the NCLEX.

You’ll also need to pay a $540 fee.

Other credentialing services could potentially be cheaper and still accepted by the State Boards of Nursing. It is important to check with the State Board before using a different credential service. Alternatives to CGFNS include:

  • International Education Research Foundation
  • Educational Records Evaluation Service

Obtain Employment Visa "Work Visa"

The next step is to obtain an employment visa. There are several options for these nurses but nurses must have sponsorship from a staffing agency. It is easier for foreign nurses to work with an independent staffing recruiter and agency then directly with a hospital.

Agencies are well versed in helping nurses work in the U.S. and have systems in place in order to ensure all information and paperwork is completed accurately.

Mexican And Canadian Nurses - TN Visa

Mexican and Canadian nurses may work in the United States with a special TN visa if the individual has an offer of employment, a license to practice in their home country, and pass the NCLEX and state licensure requirements.

H-1B Temporary Work Visa

Nurses who hold a four-year degree and fulfill a specialized nursing role may qualify for an H-1B temporary work visa and then apply for a green card once stateside. These specialized roles include critical care nurses, emergency room nurses, and/or cardiology nurses.

It is important to note that there a very limited number of H-1C visas available to nurses who want to work in very specific hospitals in underserved communities.

Permanent Work Visa

The majority of foreign-trained nurses will need to obtain a permanent work visa, otherwise known as a green card. This application needs to be completed prior to travel to the United States and the visa must be obtained before immigrating legally.

Nurses NOT Eligible To Work In The United States

Unfortunately, not all foreign-educated nurses are eligible to work in the United States. These include but are not limited to:

  • Nurses with less than two years experience
  • Nurses lacking a four-year nursing degree
  • Individuals who have committed a crime
  • Nurses who lack sponsorship from a reputable nursing agency

More Information

Due to ever-changing immigration laws it is important for potential nurse immigrants to speak directly to staffing agencies or immigration lawyers to ensure all laws are followed. Most foreign-educated nurses work closely for several years prior to working in the United States as a registered nurse.

Those seeking additional information regarding specific immigration laws should search the U.S. Department of Homeland Services and U.S. Department of Labour.