Very simply, a board of nursing regulates nursing practice while a professional nursing organization advocates for nurses.
Let's start with a board of nursing. We have state boards and also a national board of nursing in the US, named the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN). State boards regulate nursing practice by developing uniform rules and regulations for the field, accepting/accrediting nursing programs, overseeing the nursing licensure training process and enforcing the law regarding nursing practice. The NCLEX-RN and NCLEX-PN exams are developed and administered by the NCSBN. The state boards work together with the NCSBN to protect and advocate for the safety and well-being of all patients. The NCSBN provides free training resources on their website. There are video libraries that discuss nursing regulations, substance abuse in nursing, professional boundaries in nursing and social media guidelines for nurses. There are also free and paid classes for the NCLEX-RN and NCLEX-PN exams online.
Nursing associations can be state-based, national-based (American Nurses Association - ANA) or international-based (International Council of Nurses - ICN - which is a federation of 130 national nurses associations). Nursing associations can be specific, or specialty-focused based on:
1) type of nursing (ambulatory, emergency room, etc.)
2) specific nursing fields (maternal care, cardiology, etc.)
3) age-specific (neonatal, geriatric, etc.)
4) ethnic (black, male, etc.)
5) advanced nursing specialties (nurse attorneys, nurse educators, certified nurse midwives)
6) education-specific (National League of Nursing - NLN, American Association of Colleges of Nursing, etc.)
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The function of boards of nursing, established by each state, is to regulate nursing practice and protect the public by ensuring that nursing is practiced safely and professionally. Boards of nursing ensure that nurses meet certain professional standards, and boards of nursing have the authority to enforce the sections of the Nursing Practice Act (NPA) related to the education, practice, and licensing of nursing. They can also suggest changes to the act (which would be passed by legislatures). Boards also investigate potential violations of the NPA and discipline violators.
Nursing associations such as the American Nurses Association (ANA) and the National League for Nurses (NLN), on the other hand, advance the profession of nursing. They suggest new forms of practice for the profession to integrate. Unlike boards of nursing, nursing associations do not have the power to enforce laws. Occasionally, nursing organizations can make recommendations that boards of nursing do not adopt or that take some time for the boards of nursing to adopt.