New law allows graduating nurses to start practicing sooner

GRADUATE REGISTERED NURSES will be able to start practicing before taking their national licensing exam under a new law sponsored by Senate Majority Whip Valarie Lawson and Rep. Stephen Casey. Pictured is the R.I. Statehouse. / PBN FILE PHOTO/NICOLE DOTZENROD

PROVIDENCE – Graduate registered nurses will be able to start practicing before taking their national licensing exam under a new law sponsored by Senate Majority Whip Valarie Lawson, D-East Providence, and Rep. Stephen Casey, D-Woonsocket.

The legislation, which was part of the Senate’s HEALTH Initiative, was recently signed into law by Gov. Daniel J. McKee.

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The law allows graduate nurses to begin practicing before taking and receiving results from the National Council Licensure Examination, or NCLEX, which is the exam created by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing, as long as they are licensed within 90 days.

“It’s important to consider all the tools we have available to us to ease the shortage of health care workers in Rhode Island,” Lawson said. “Allowing registered nurses who have graduated their programs to begin their on-the-job training before their test results is one of those tools, one that nurses and health care facilities have been asking for.”

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Advocates for the measure say graduating registered nurses must go through weeks of training and supervision by existing nurses before they begin. So, requiring them to pass the exam only delays new hires from helping ease the staffing shortages.

“By allowing nursing graduates to practice pending the results of their NCLEX, this law provides a critical buffer that helps bridge the gap between academic preparation and full licensure,” said Teresa Paiva Weed, president of the Hospital Association of Rhode Island. “This change will not only bolster our health care workforce but also support new graduates as they transition into their professional roles, reducing administrative delays that currently hinder immediate employment and practice.”

Casey noted the same measure was implemented during the COVID-19 pandemic under an executive order.

“This is an easy step we can take to help out with the nursing shortage in the short term and make life easier on new nurses and the hospitals that employ them,” Casey said.

Katie Castellani is a PBN staff writer. You may contact her at Castellani@PBN.com.

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