Nurses wishing to practice in Washington usually must wait a month or longer to get a state license, even if they’re already vetted and approved in states with nearly identical rules.

Washington has a shortage of nurses in the best of times. But especially during the ongoing public health emergency, the state cannot afford to have qualified professionals sitting on their hands waiting for paperwork to go through. Even in an emergency, nurses who travel to the state to fill critical care gaps in hospitals, clinics and long-term care facilities must wait at least a day or two for permission to pitch in and help.

Lawmakers can change that by approving Senate Bill 5247, making Washington part of the Nurse Licensure Compact, which allows licensed nurses to practice in each of 34 participating states.

Multistate licenses can be useful for traveling nurses, military spouses and telehealth providers. In Washington, where world-class medical facilities draw patients from across the country, such licenses would allow nurses to provide before and aftercare for visiting patients without having to seek individual licenses in every state where those patients live.

State licensers have long sought this legislation, said Paula Meyer, Executive Director of the Nursing Care Quality Assurance Commission at the Washington Department of Health.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, would not force nurses into multistate licenses, which critics say are more expensive. But it would give them the option. It has been referred to the Health & Long Term Care committee but has not yet been scheduled for a public hearing. Similar legislation filed in both chambers last year failed to advance to a vote.


Proponents like the Washington State Hospital Association say joining the compact would ease nursing shortages and make it easier for employers to check license and discipline records for troubling work histories across multiple states. Critics say it could actually make problems worse, enticing Washington nurses to leave for greener pastures. But there are a lot of reasons to live and work here, including excellent medical services, strong workplace protections and quality of life.

The Washington State Nurses Association opposes the legislation, in part, because there is no registration requirement for nurses working under compact licenses. They say this lack of transparency makes it impossible to know if the compact has actually lessened nursing shortages or led to better care in other states.

The group has joined 10 other state nurses associations in asking the compact administrators to make these and other changes, since state lawmakers aren’t allowed to amend the compact agreement. These differences have kept Washington in a holding pattern for years.

It’s time to break the stalemate. The benefits of multistate nursing licenses far outweigh the potential drawbacks. What’s more, joining the compact will give Washington greater influence within the compact states to effect the changes the State Nurses Association seeks.

An earlier version of this editorial misidentified the Washington State Nurses Association and state nursing associations requesting changes to the Nurse Licensure Compact.