The Cost Of Getting A Nursing License When You Have A Record

by Nicole Teixeira

After two years of other people’s blood and my sweat and tears, I have graduated from nursing school. Yes, dear readers, if all goes according to plan, I will soon be unleashed upon the good people of California to care for your loved ones.

Graduating from nursing school doesn’t make you a nurse — it simply qualifies you to take a state licensing exam. Or at least it qualifies you to ask the state if you’re qualified to sit for the exam. You see, one of the delightful little nuances of the process that many people aren’t aware of going into it is that once you finish jumping through all of the nursing school hoops, there’s a whole shiny new set waiting for you. If you, like me, were an irresponsible idiot as a teenager and managed to rack up a misdemeanor on your record — driving on a suspended learner’s permit, if you must know — well, there’s a whole other set of hoops waiting for you.

In addition to all of the normal requirements, such as fingerprints, passport photos, and application fees, I had to provide certified copies of all legal documents related to my case, a letter of explanation including “evidence of rehabilitation,” and letters of recommendation from nursing faculty or community members.

These are all of the steps I had to take to get my RN license from the California Board of Registered Nursing; the whole process took just under three months.

LiveScan Fingerprinting: $74.00

This was sort of crazy to me. $74? For fingerprints? Are they hand-etched into marble? The cost is apparently a reflection of the fact that the prints go straight into The System© and are captured by a highly-qualified fingerprint-collector with a special certification to roll each of your fingers across a tiny scanner. Shout-out to Lou at the UPS Store.

Fun fact! By law agencies can’t share fingerprints, so if I ever need to be fingerprinted for anything else I get to pay another $74. I feel like I just got sucked into some sort of DOJ/FBI joint pyramid scheme.

Court “Research Fee”: $15, but should have been $30??

Parking Garage: Free

Ah yes. The first of many steps in paying penance for my delinquent youth. I went online and printed out the form to request copies of my court documents which helpfully advised that it would cost 50 cents a page plus $25 for “certified” documents. (And of course the Board specifically requests certified documents.) By some miracle there was no line the morning I visited the courthouse which turned out to be lucky since it took a solid ten minutes just to look up my case number. Or numbers, as it turned out. While the clerk clicked away behind her plexiglass casing I stood racking my brain in silent horror, trying to figure out why there were two separate case files. I think I’d remember if I was convicted of a second crime … wouldn’t I??

At any rate, the panic-inducing mystery remained unsolved for the moment since the files were stored off-site and would apparently take a day or two to retrieve. The clerk advised me that there was $15 charge for pulling the files (a “research fee”) and, for the first time in I don’t know how many years, I wrote a paper check.

Ten minutes later I was in my car looking over my copy of the record request when I noticed that the receipt stapled to my paper said “$30 — paid.” I wrote the check for $15; I didn’t realize it was $15 per file.

Sigh. Another charge for my growing criminal record, I guess.

Letters of Recommendation: Free. Or rather, at a cost of only my pride. Only my pride.

As expensive as this process was, easily the worst part of all was having to explain the situation to my nursing program director and several of my instructors and ask for character-centered letters of recommendation. I should mention here that I’m now in my late 20’s, and in the more than ten years since the whole issue was resolved I haven’t earned so much as a speeding ticket. Like most normally-developing young people I’ve come along way in my efforts to be more of a “grown up,” and having to revive the idiocy of my younger years in this way did a bit of a number on my pride.

I had worked so hard to become this responsible, semi-successful person that having to introduce these mentors to the person I used to be was slightly painful. I did worry that it would affect their opinion of me, but thankfully everyone seemed to be very understanding and more than willing to help me out.

Arrest Record: $7.00

I had naively assumed that walking into the police station and asking for a certified copy of my arrest record would be a simple matter. I was, of course, wrong. Computerized record-keeping is apparently a foreign concept to the police department of the small beach town I grew up in, and I was informed that there was no way — no way! — to simply look the arrest record up by my name, or even to figure out the corresponding record number.

With a heavy heart I filled out a poorly-xeroxed paper record request form and supplied the clerk with the answers to vague questions (“Do you remember what street it happened on? What time of day?”) that would hopefully help her ferret out my records from the thousands of other arrest reports housed at the station. My expectations were not high.

Lo and behold, about a week later I got a call from the clerk informing me that my records were at the station and ready to be picked up. Incredibly relieved, I drove over that same afternoon and wrote a $7 check for the certified photocopies.

Court Documents, Round Two: $50

By the middle of the following week, I still hadn’t received a call about the court documents that were supposed to arrive in one to two days. I called, and after around twenty minutes on hold was told that they would have to “look into it and get back to” me. The fact that the clerk spent the first half of our conversation thinking my name was “Michelle” did not bolster my confidence.

Mercifully, the next morning I got a call from the clerk telling me my files were ready. The next day I spent my lunch hour at the courthouse looking over the evidence of my very expensive foray into juvenile delinquency. (I paid nearly $1900 in fines?! No wonder I blocked that out.) As instructed I paperclipped the documents I needed copies of and brought the files back to the clerk. It was at this moment, nearly a week and $15 — well, $30 as far as they know — later, that she asked me if I wanted the case summary from the new system. As in, there was a simple one-stop document that she just had to hit “print” on all along. Gritting my teeth, I told her why yes, that would be great, thanks so much and wrote a check for another $50.

Passport Photos: $12.95

I was all set to hit up my local CVS for a set of $12 passport photos when I figured that I could upload my own “passport-style” photos as an attachment to my application. White background, check. Warm, flattering lighting, check. My most responsible-looking outfit, check. Easily the most painless part of the application process.

Oh wait, WRONG. As it turned out the photo had to be physically attached (“please tape on all four sides”) to part of the paper application. I do not own a photo printer, none of my classmates had a photo printer, and at any rate I wasn’t in the mood to deal with it any further, so off I went to CVS on my lunch break the next day. Ten minutes and $12.95 later I was in possession of two of the most unflattering photos of me that have ever been taken. Victory!

CA BRN Application Fee: $150

The application itself came in two parts: a simple online application with personal information and a couple pages of screening questions, and the packet of papers containing the page with the passport photo, a letter explaining the misdemeanor on my record, the court documents and arrest record, and the faculty letters of support. The online portion took about two minutes to complete, and after I attached a copy of the LiveScan fingerprinting form, I paid the $150 application fee with my debit card.

Postage: $22.95

The BRN is somewhat notorious for processing things at their own mysterious rate which makes no sense to us mere mortals. Spooked by horror stories of applications lost, marked as incomplete, or processed months after submission, I was determined to get my paperwork in as soon as possible, especially since I knew mine would have to undergo an extra layer of review. I waited in a horrendously long line at the post office, and when it was my turn I sprung for the fasted shipping speed that I could reasonably afford.

NCLEX Exam Registration Fee: $200

Another fun quirk of the way this whole system is set up is that you have to create a Pearson account, for the company that actually administers the test, in order to get the okay from the Board to take the test. Don’t ask me. Once you setup your account you can either wait to hear from the Board or go ahead and pay the fee in advance so that all you’d have to do is pick a date once you get the official go-ahead. I chose to bite the bullet and pay the fee, charging it to my credit card.

Burgers and Curly Fries: $16.78

Within a few days I received permission to test from the BRN and scheduled my exam. There weren’t many dates to choose from: one on the coming Tuesday, less than a week away, and then a couple dates several weeks in the future. I’ve never been much of a heavy study-er and the anxiety was already killing me, so I chose the 8:00 am Tuesday slot.

The nearest official Pearson testing site was about an hour away from where I lived, so on the advice of an NCLEX test prep advisor I decided to drive down the day before to make sure I knew exactly where I was going and how long it would take to get there. A bit excessive, I know, but I get anxious about those sorts of things and it helped quite a bit. I drafted a friend into driving down with me, and as a thank you bought us lunch at a nearby Jack in the Box — his pick, not mine, but I will say that their curly fries are excellent.

Tank of Gas: $42.36

Coffee: $2.96

The day of the exam I woke up way too early. I was sick with anxiety, and, as it turned out, sick in general with the flu. I left early enough to fill up my car at the gas station nearest the highway entrance and spent the hourlong drive trying not to vomit. At the testing center I waited in the lobby with about ten others to endure a whole host of hilariously over-the-top security measures: palm scans, turning my pockets inside-out — you guys, they checked the inside of my glasses frames. Finally I was escorted to a cubicle.

The exam took about 40 minutes and shut off after 75 questions, and when I walked out I was absolutely convinced I had blown it. I got in my car and stopped at the nearest convenience store for the largest cup of coffee they could provide. I sipped it on the hour long drive home, trying not to think about the disastrous exam.

Total Cost: $594

I passed! My name appeared on the state’s official licensing website about three weeks after I sat for my exam, and I received my license in the mail a few days later. Sorry good citizens of California, I’m about to be unleashed upon your sick loved ones.

Nicole Teixeira is a writer, gamer, and RN who lives in California. She sporadically tweets @ser_barkspawn.

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