Can You Be a Nurse with a DUI?

A nurse who just graduated from an advanced practice nurse (APN) program is troubled by the APN application for licensure. According to the nurse, the application asks for past criminal judgments as part of its background check process.

The registered nurse (RN) pled guilty to a driving under the influence (DUI) charge while she was in nursing school and was required to undergo court supervision. She never disclosed the guilty plea to her nursing school or the board of nursing (BON) when she initially received her professional nurse license. She’s worried her APN application will be denied.

Nurse needs to seek legal advice

As you know, criminal background checks are a part of the application process for a nurse license, regardless of whether you’re seeking a practical nurse, RN, or APN license. The nurse’s dilemma is that she didn’t disclose the DUI when applying for her RN license, and disclosing it now opens the door to the BON questioning why she didn’t disclose this information back then. Still, it’s vital to reveal this information now.

The nurse should retain a nurse attorney or attorney to help her craft an honest and factual response to the question so she can inform the board of the reasons why she never disclosed the DUI and court supervision. For instance, the nurse mentioned her nondisclosure was due to “ignorance and shame.” Additionally, the statement might say the court proceedings took place 25 years ago, and she was too young back then to consider the ramifications of not disclosing the information. Now she is older, aware of her mistake, and wants to rectify it from this point on.

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The attorney also will want her to include all of the court documents on the matter so the board can see the evidence supporting her statement concerning the DUI and supervision. If she was represented by an attorney who handled the DUI charge, a letter from that lawyer would also be helpful.

Even with an attorney’s help, the nurse said she thinks that she shouldn’t apply for the APN license and just “continue as an RN.” Although this approach is understandable, given her fear of being subjected to “public shame” about the nondisclosure, not trying to obtain the APN license is unwise because, first of all, she has spent time, money, and a great deal of effort to graduate from the APN program.

Second, not all misdemeanor convictions are treated the same by BONs. A misdemeanor conviction for a DUI charge, for instance, is not necessarily an absolute bar to licensure, but one for shoplifting or providing false information to the police may be. How the board handles misdemeanor convictions can be determined by a thorough review of the state nurse practice act and rules, as well as any practice opinions issued by the board. Her attorney also can review board decisions involving denial of licensure for such convictions.

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A third and very important reason to attempt to obtain the APN license is to clear up her past mistake with the board and move on.

It’s important to note that a board may grant licensure with a misdemeanor conviction but may place restrictions on the nurse’s practice. For example, this nurse might be subjected to a probationary period as an APN.

The question that remains in my mind is whether the nurse’s APN educational program required an admission of any past criminal history. I would think that the program would’ve asked about this.

Guidelines for you to remember

If you’re applying for licensure as a nurse at any level and have a criminal history of any kind, be sure to follow these steps:

  • Consult with a nurse attorney (or attorney) to help you with any application processes.
  • Be honest with the attorney.
  • Share court documents and other supporting evidence of your conviction and successful completion of the terms of your sentence with your attorney.
  • If the board requests an interview with you before a decision is made concerning licensure, attend that interview with your attorney (if that option is available) and answer all questions accurately and honestly.
  • If you enroll in any nursing educational program, be sure to answer all questions asked — including about criminal history — honestly and completely.

Are you concerned about how a DUI charge or other incidents in your past might affect your nursing license? Comment below and talk to your fellow nurses about this topic by downloading the social networking app.


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