Can You Work as a NP Before Passing Your Certification Exam?

Once you’ve graduated from your nurse practitioner program, the wait to take your certification exam can present a significant delay for your job search. If you aren’t yet certified, you can’t start working, right? Fortunately, some states have recognized this inconvenient setback and provided new NP grads with a way to start their careers sooner. 

Nurse practitioners ultimately must obtain a state license and a national certification (in most states) to be eligible to practice. NPs who plan to write prescriptions must also obtain a DEA number and fulfill any additional requirements for prescriptive authority at the state level. Obtaining a state license is typically as simple as filling out a short form, paying a few hundred dollars, and sending your state board of nursing proof of graduation from an accredited NP program as well as evidence of passing the national NP certification exam

For most new nurse practitioner graduates, passing the national certification exam is the holdup in this process. In order to take the NP certification exam, you must have completed your nurse practitioner program, and for prudent grads, put in some hours studying at the library. Then, you may find yourself waiting for your designated test date to arrive. 

Fortunately, some states recognize the licensing delay caused by the certification process and allow new nurse practitioners to practice on a provisional basis for a short period of time prior to becoming nationally certified. In New Hampshire, for example, new NPs may apply for a temporary license to practice. This license is valid for 120 days and allows recent grads to practice after graduating from a nurse practitioner program but before taking the national NP certification exam. 

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Similarly, Alaska’s laws permit new nurse practitioners to apply for a temporary license to practice provided that they have been accepted to take the national NP certification exam, or are awaiting certification exam results. Should the new NP grad fail the exam, he/she must surrender the temporary practice permit. 

If you are a new NP grad, taking a quick look at your state’s licensing laws may allow you to start working sooner, giving a more seamless transition from education to practice. Make sure you have your license to practice as a registered nurse in the state where you plan to work up to date as this will be required to obtain a temporary permit to practice. Look closely at the rules and regulations surrounding obtaining a temporary permit to practice as some state laws contain a few caveats. For example, a temporary permit is typically awarded for a specified amount of time or may require that you have already registered to take the NP certification exam

To locate your state’s guidelines for new nurse practitioners, the best place to look is your state board of nursing website. These sites can be a bit confusing so it may also be helpful to give your board of nursing a call to clarify terms of obtaining a temporary permit to practice. Never start working as an NP before you know you have met your state’s requirements for practice and hold all necessary licenses and certifications. 

Does your state allow new NPs to start practicing immediately, or must you wait to complete your certification?


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3 thoughts on “Can You Work as a NP Before Passing Your Certification Exam?”

  1. Do you know where I could find information about this for Georgia? I read the nurse practice act but didn’t seem to find anything about it. Thanks!

  2. I live in Florida so I went to the Florida Board of nursing website, selected the option to apply for ARNP license and there were options for a provisional license but only if you are a CNM or CRNA. Since I am FNP I don’t qualify. That may be a quicker way for you to search, if GA is set up in a similar way.

  3. Choose your certification wisely… the aanp allows you to register early and you are allowed to take the test as soon as coursework is completed and before degree is conferred. I took and passed the test before the official graduation.( I spent my last semester doing Barkley review… and redid the whole review the 4 days before)

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