Can you be a nurse with a misdemeanor assault charge? A couple of caveats first. One, this is not going to be a state-specific talk. Every board has their own rules. So, you need to investigate whatever state you ultimately decide to apply to for your license. You need to look at those rules specifically. This is going to be more of a general conversation about what a board normally would look into if you did have a misdemeanor assault charge in your past. Also, I’m only going to direct this to applicants. If you have a current license and you’re wondering what’s going to happen, your board will have a clear path of what they do with when to report a criminal charge and then what they do when you do that.
This is more probably for people that are thinking about alright, well, maybe I’d like to go to nursing school, but I don’t know if I can get a license, or maybe you’re just getting out of nursing school and you think, oh crap, now I must apply. Is this going to be an issue? In short, probably not. If you have a misdemeanor assault charge in your past, it likely will not prohibit you from getting a nursing license. Now, there are several factors that go into whether a board is going to grant a license or not when it comes to past criminal incidents. And let’s kind of go through those. Obviously, first is how long ago did it happen? An assault charge that happened 20 years ago is going to be taken less seriously than one that happened a year ago.
And before I move forward, I just want to talk about the difference between a charge and a conviction. Most people don’t understand the difference. A charge means you’ve just been charged with something, but you haven’t been found guilty. The boards generally do not care about that at all. I use that in the title of this blog because that’s what most people search for when they’re looking for information about this. But a conviction means you have reached a plea agreement, went to trial, and lost, or had pretrial diversion program. Most boards consider that a conviction in some way. That’s what I’m talking about here, I mean like you were found guilty or pled guilty in this scenario, and then you must report it to the board on your application, or they will always do a criminal background check and maybe it pops up and then they reach out to you to talk about it.
Alright, as I said before, the first thing is how long ago did it happen. And then the second is how many assault charges do you have? I mean, there’s a difference between having one 20 years ago versus seven last year. If you have a cluster of assault charges, there’s generally a reason. It’s a mental health problem, or more likely a substance abuse problem. People don’t just have multiple assault charges because they have anger management problem, or at least it’s rare that that would happen. It’s almost always driven by problem with drugs or alcohol. First, they’re going to say, alright, we want the criminal records. So, either the court documents or the police report, and then they may ask you to write a statement about what happened.
And then at some point, they may interview you to discuss what happened. Most of the time, it’s relatively innocuous. However, as I said before, if in the police report, it states that you were intoxicated or on drugs or anything like that, the main concern about the board is not going to be whether you assaulted somebody, it’s going to be whether you have substance abuse problems that are going to render you incapable or be a risk of not being able to provide safe patient care. Even though it may start in one place like, okay, did you assault someone? It will quickly shift to, okay, maybe you assaulted somebody, but what was the underlying reason behind that? I mean, if it was just a fistfight with somebody over like a partner or something, that’s one thing. But if you’re at a bar and have had, as I said before, seven assault charges all since you were completely intoxicated and can’t handle those types of situations, well, that’s going to concern the board the most.
So, consider how long ago it happened and then how many you have and then last will be other criminal charges. If you’ve had an assault charge, a domestic violence charge, a DUI, drug possession, all that in combination obviously is going to concern any board. If it’s just one assault charge, that’s very unlikely to stop you from getting a license. If it is a long sheet of problems across multiple different charges and convictions, that will be more of a concern. If a board did have a concern about your safety to practice, or maybe they thought you did have anger management, substance abuse problems, whatever, that doesn’t mean they will just completely deny licensure. Many times, what they’ll do is they’ll offer probation to the nurse. Let’s say they have a concern about substance abuse problems.
They’ll say, alright, we will grant the license, but we will also simultaneously put you on probation. And probation normally includes random drug testing, supervision at work, AA, NA, or nurse recovery group participation, you won’t be able to work on the nursing compact, there are restrictions on the hours that you work, the setting that you work in. In that scenario, the board is kind of satisfied that they will be able to monitor the nurse in some way for a short period. Most of these usually last somewhere between 12 to 36 months. And then after that period is over with, and the nurse’s license is encumbered, then they can do whatever they want after that. The worst-case scenario would be to be denied a license, which is considered a formal disciplinary action.
But even if the board has huge concerns about the behavior of a nurse, it doesn’t mean that they can’t have alternatives. And one of them is being placed on probation. Now, there are also scenarios where the board will just say, this is so long ago, we’re just simply not concerned about your behavior. And they would just grant the license without any kind of formal disciplinary action. Just depends upon the board and depends upon the nurse. What I would suggest is if you are a nurse or at least you’re an AP, or I guess thinking of going to nursing school, and you’re just not sure based upon your past, I would find an attorney who does nursing board defense in the state that you want to apply to, and just say, look, here’s my past, what’s your opinion on whether I can get a license or not?
Now, no one is going to be able to give you a hundred percent guaranteed answer. But if someone has experience with a nursing board in any state, they should probably be able to give you at least a ballpark of yes or no. I mean, I’m here in Arizona and I can tell you, I could almost, with a hundred percent accuracy, tell somebody, yes, you would get licensed or no, you’re not, based upon their past criminal incidents. So, if you have an issue in Arizona, we’re certainly happy and willing to help you. If you have issues in another state, I suggest you reach out to someone that does that in that state. A good way of finding attorneys who represent nurses before licensing boards is to look at the old minutes of the board meeting.
Every board must release an agenda. So, basically like, here’s what’s going to happen at every board meeting in advance. And then they also must release a summary of what happened and that’s called the minutes. And then in the minutes, it will state if someone is represented by an attorney and what their name is. And so, you can kind of see, okay, well, these are the attorneys that frequently represent nurses in the state, and that’ll at least give you a starting point as far as trying to find somebody besides just randomly Googling people.
I find some places listed on their websites that they do these things, but I never see them at a board meeting. Anyway, hopefully, that was a little bit of a guideline of what to do if you’ve had a past misdemeanor assault charge.
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