Can you be a nurse with a misdemeanor drug charge? Obviously, this is not going to be state-specific. I’m just going to give you general tips and things to think about if you’re going to apply for your nursing license. I know that many people that read these blogs are also maybe thinking of going into nursing school and are thinking, alright, well, maybe I can get into nursing school, but I can’t get a license, and I just wasted a bunch of time and money. So, I’m going to talk more about applicants or maybe even people that are thinking of going to nursing school. This is not going to be directed towards currently licensed nurses.
Alright, so you have a past misdemeanor drug charge which could be a possession of a bunch of different drugs, potentially distribution. There are some misdemeanor distribution charges as well. If you’ve been convicted, you’ve either gone to trial and lost or most likely reached a plea with the prosecutor, and then you had to do community service, fines, maybe some drug counseling, treatment, whatever it is, the board cares about convictions for the most part and not just charges.
It doesn’t mean you’ve ultimately been found guilty if you’re just charged with a crime. Only when you’ve been convicted or reached a plea, or maybe went into a pretrial diversion program, that’s where most boards find that the nurse, in their minds, would be convicted. So, if you’ve had one misdemeanor possession of marijuana from 20 years ago, that will not keep you from getting your nursing license, let’s just say.
What Does the Nursing Board Usually Look For in Drug Charges?
When a board looks at the criminal pass of a nurse, they’re going to run two things. They’re going to ask in the application, and this changes from state to state, but usually, they’ll ask: do you have any felony convictions? And then two, potentially, do you have any misdemeanor charges involving substance abuse? It does vary from state to state. You need to look at the specific language in the application of the state that you’re looking to apply to and then just see what you have to disclose. And then, the board is also going to write a criminal background check. Then anything that pops up in that criminal background check will likely reach out to you and ask you to give a summary of what happened and maybe even potentially provide them with the police records or court documents, so keep that in mind.
Now, in a board’s mind, what they care about is that they’re going to license safe nurses that don’t have drug problems. And the board’s stated mission is to protect the public. They’re not there to protect the nurse, so they will see how many different misdemeanor drug charges or convictions they have. If you’ve had 15 in the last three years, that is a big problem, and you will probably not get your license.
If you had, as I said before, maybe one from 20 years ago, almost no chance you wouldn’t get your license. It’s a sliding scale. You need to consider how much time had elapsed from when you had your last conviction until when you applied and then how many you have. You can also think that if you did have a drug problem at the time, what have you done to fix the problem?
If a nurse was addicted to methamphetamine doesn’t mean you won’t get your license, but the board certainly wants to know, alright, if you did have addiction issues, what did you do to solve that problem? Did you go to AA or NA, or did you go to counseling? Did you seek treatment? Maybe you went into inpatient rehab? Or maybe you went into an intensive outpatient treatment program in IOP? Maybe you’ve made some lifestyle changes. Or have a different friend group. Maybe you got away from an abusive spouse. Something like that. There must be a change if there’s just a big cluster of drug problems at a time. There must be some rehabilitation change for the board to feel comfortable with issuing a license.
When Charges Are Frequent and More Than Just a Misdemeanor
Let’s just say it’s a recent number of drug charges, and they think this nurse hasn’t done what they need to do. It’s certainly possible they could issue the license but also put the nurse on simultaneous probation for drug issues. In most states would include random drug testing, supervision at work, maybe some kind of continuing education, a nurse recovery group, counseling, rehab, whatever. I mean, there’s a variety of things they could do. But even if you’ve had a bunch of recent things, but you’re willing to do what it takes to get your license, the board can, as I said before, issue the license but put you on probation. It could be anywhere from 12 to 36 months, sometimes more. And then, if you were to get through that period, your license would no longer be encumbered.
Now, one bad thing about being placed on probation is if an alternative to a discipline program is not available for you. In an alternative discipline program, in most states, there’s a confidential monitoring program where you can do all the things I just listed, but it wouldn’t be public. And it wouldn’t be considered formal discipline. If the board only offers you formal discipline, that’s going to stay in your record, at least in most states, forever. So, you need to think about, alright, even if I do get a license, if I have this blemish on it forever, is that going to dampen the chances of me possibly getting the job I want to get? I would say no, but it is more difficult to find a job if you have a disciplinary history.
Before Attending a Nursing School, Get an Attorney to Review Your Drug Charges or Drug Conviction
So, in summary, if you just have one or two misdemeanor drug convictions, you’re probably fine. The closer to the date that you apply, the more scrutiny you’re going to get from the board. But overall, every situation is a little bit different. What I would suggest, I’m in Arizona, so I only help nurses with the Arizona board.
Before you even apply to a nursing school, it might make sense to reach out to somebody in the state that you’re thinking of applying to, someone who has experience with nursing board issues, and just say, hey, in the past, have you had a similar scenario? And then what is the likelihood of me getting a license once I apply? No one is going to be able to give you a 100% accurate guess, but if someone’s been doing the nursing board for a long time, they can usually give you a decently accurate, I guess, estimation of whether they think you would get licensed or not. And then maybe if there was disciplinary action attached to that or not.
Other Blogs Of Interest
- What Would a Nurse be Subject to if Recently Convicted of a Felony?
- Can you be a Nurse in Indiana with a Felony?
- Nursing Law: Can you be a Nurse with a Misdemeanor Assault Charge?
Can you be a Nurse with a DUI?
First, let’s just talk about what it means to have a DUI. You could’ve been charged with the DUI but never convicted. That’s not going to prevent you from becoming a nurse. I’m just talking about convictions here, meaning you either pled guilty through a plea agreement, went to trial, lost, and were found guilty. That’s what I’m talking about. Or, maybe you reached a pretrial diversion program, which most boards consider a guilty outcome. Now, first, this is just general information. Every state has its own specific rules as far as kind of criminal background.
Thinking of Enrolling or Just Enrolled in a Nursing School?
I’m just going to give you general information, and things to think about. Maybe you’re thinking about entering nursing school or maybe you’re just finishing up nursing school and now you’re going to have to apply to boards and you’re like, oh no. I do have the stuff in my background. I never thought about it. Can I get a license? So, totally delay any major fear. 99 times out of 100, yes, if you have a DUI in your past, you’ll still be able to get your nursing license. Now, it may be under some conditions, but it’s very rare unless it’s a felony DUI that would prevent you from getting a nursing license, like completely. Let’s just kind of break down what a board will look at if you have a past DUI.
Usually, when you apply, and this is state-specific, it’ll normally say, have you had any convictions regarding substance abuse or alcohol or something like that? A DUI obviously is yes, considered one of those. And it’s going to say, alright, well, tell us when it happened, where it happened, give us a little statement about what happened. And then they may even want the nurse to provide them with a criminal record.
There are two parts to any record of the police documents and then the court documents. And they’re separate. They’re normally not in the same place. You’ll have to request them from both. Once you have all of that, you’ve submitted a statement, then depending upon the length of time that you elapsed since you had the DUI, what your BAC was. Do you have three DUIs versus one? Do you have any other kind of substance abuse-related, some drug charges, possession sale, a lot of disorderly conduct, or domestic violence-related incidents involving alcohol?
Is it One DUI or an Underlying Substance Abuse?
If there are any kind of major red flags beyond just I’ve had one regular DUI in my past, what a board will normally do is they’re going to investigate. The investigation will be kind of a review of all of the criminal and court documents. And then they’ll usually ask to speak to the nurse.
What happened here? What was going on in your life at the time? Did you have to do any kind of rehabilitation? Did you go into rehab, maybe an IOP, have you been doing AA? What are your current drinking habits? Those are the questions they’re going to ask to determine whether you have a problem or not? I mean, the main, well, not the main, the stated purpose of every board of nursing is to protect the public, not to protect the nurse. They’re not there for you. They’re there to protect the public.
Suppose they’re going to license somebody with a criminal background involving a DUI. In that case, they want to ensure that you don’t continue to have substance abuse-related problems that may bleed into the clinical side of providing patient care. Or, if you had problems in the past, you must fix them somehow. As I said before, doing rehab or an IOP or counseling, AA, all those things. Just because you’ve had one DUI in your past doesn’t mean you need to do all those things. Well, you probably don’t need to go to rehab or AA or do anything if you just had one DUI 10 years ago and made a stupid decision. Now, if you’ve had three DUIs and you had a very high, like over 0.2 BAC, at least in Arizona, it’s called a super extreme DUI.
Yes, you probably do need to do those things to show the board that you have dealt with the issues and that you no longer have those problems. They’re going to ask about all your current drinking habits, so how much do you drink now? When I talk to a nurse and say, okay, you’ve had one DUI, fine. It’s a great scheme of things. That’s not a big deal, but what are your current drinking habits? And they say I drink a six-pack every night before bed. Okay, but most boards will describe that as someone with a substance abuse problem.
Think of them as the parish organization; anything above regular social drinking will shoot up red flags for them. Now, suppose they think you may have an issue. In that case, some boards will then have a nurse get a substance abuse evaluation by a psychologist, maybe a substance abuse counselor, to get an opinion on whether they have any substance abuse problems. And whether that professional believes they need a monitoring program.
Worst Case Scenario For Nurses Who’ve Had a DUI
That’s usually, the worst-case scenario for a nurse with DUI in their background is that the board will essentially force them to go on probation for a period. And they’ll grant the license simultaneously. They’ll say, yes, you can be a nurse, but you’ll be on probation for 12 months and have to do random drug screens, AA, recovery group, and supervision at work.
Can’t use your multi-state privilege if your state offers that. That’s usually the worst-case scenario for a nurse to get completely denied a license based upon a single DUI in their past is extraordinarily rare. Almost for sure would-be other factors involved beyond just that one incident. So, take a deep breath. If you’ve had one DUI, it doesn’t mean the end of the world, and it doesn’t mean you’re never going to get a nursing license, but there may be some things you’ll have to explain.
If you do have an extensive criminal history, it’s probably a good idea to contact an attorney in your state that handles the board stuff, maybe to come up with a plan or to kind of say, alright, do I need to do these things before I apply for my license? That would make the most sense. As I said before, I’m only in Arizona, so I can only assist nurses here in Arizona. But I think this is good general advice for any nurse who’s had a DUI in the past.
What Can Disqualify You From Being a Nurse?
What can disqualify you from becoming a nurse? I’m only going to talk about applicants, not people already licensed by the state. This is just going to be kind of a general discussion of, alright, maybe I’m thinking of going to nursing school, or maybe I’ve completed nursing school. I must apply to a nursing board and get my nursing license. What are some of the things in my past that can disqualify me from being a nurse in the future?
Lastly, this is not going to be state-specific. It will be a general discussion as an attorney representing nurses or future nurses from the nursing board. The first and probably the most obvious thing is some heinous criminal incidents in your past. Almost none of the boards in any state contain a list of things like, if you’ve done these things, you can’t get a license. No matter what, they’ll have a general guideline.
But, any kind of violent crimes, if you were a maybe heavy distributor of drugs in some way, sexual misconduct, those are types of things that are hard to rehabilitate from, or at least in the eyes of the board. And so, having those in your past can be a bar to getting a license ever. When I talk to nurses that are always concerned about DUIs, marijuana possessions, theft, domestic violence, disorderly conduct, and maybe an assault charge, it may not feel like it, but these are relatively low-level crimes.
And so just because you’ve had some of those in your past generally will not disqualify you from getting a license in the future. Now, if you’ve had 20 assault charges, it’s probably not going to happen for you, but if it’s a handful of things from 20 years ago, it’s not going to hinder you from getting your nursing license.
And even in this scenario where the board was very concerned about past behavior, they would almost always offer the nurse a probationary license, meaning they would grant the license, but they would also simultaneously put them on probation, which could be one to three years. And at the end of that probationary period, then their license is unencumbered. That’s what normally happens. I guess the timing of the felony would matter. Some states require a certain period after either the felony, I guess the nurse or potential nurse was either convicted of the felony or completed the probationary requirements. I know here in Arizona, someone must have at least three years from the date of termination of probation of a felony to be eligible to reapply or apply for a nursing license.
Nursing Background Check, Criminal Records, and State License
The first things are heinous crimes, and two, high negative publicity events. I know it sounds strange, but boards of nursing are very concerned about the public image of nurses. And if there’s been a past incident with an applicant that sheds negatively upon the nursing profession, that board will be much less likely to issue the license. Most of those end up being criminal in nature, but you need to consider that these are political agencies and the politics of issuing licenses to people that are looked at as either dangerous or incompetent is not something most of the boards are willing to do.
Lastly, if you’ve had another healthcare license and you’ve been placed on the OIG exclusionary list. The office of the inspector general has this list where if you’ve had a license revoked, suspended, voluntary surrender, or a certain number of crimes, they can exclude you from billing under Medicare or Medicaid. The boards, for the most part, don’t care about that at all. However, the employers, or at least some employers, will. If they can’t bill for you, they will not employ you. So, you need to think, alright, what happened to put me on that exclusionary list? And then you also need to consider there are ways of getting off it after a period and, I guess, jumping through certain hoops. You need to investigate doing that as well.
Grounds for Permanent Disqualification From State Nursing Programs
There are very few things that can completely disqualify a nurse from getting a license. Most of the boards just want to see, alright, if something bad happened, have you learned from it? Did you take steps to remediate the behavior in some way? If it was maybe drugs or alcohol, did you go to AA? Did you go to counseling? Did you go to an intensive outpatient treatment program or rehab? Have you made just healthy changes in your lifestyle so that you can deal with stress better? These are the things the boards want to hear. Just because you’ve had one bad thing happen in your past, if you’ve learned from it and incorporated positive things into your life, that’s what the boards want to see.
People make mistakes. It’s fine. But if the same thing keeps happening and you’re not learning from it, I mean, at some point, you likely have an interview with an investigator from a board if you’ve applied to some criminal history. You just state, I was set up or whatever, making excuses. Those are not the things that they want to hear.
Can a Felon Become a Nurse?
This is going to deal with people who may be thinking of going into nursing school. They might decide, alright, maybe I can get into nursing school. But will getting a license from a state be a problem down the road? I’m not going to focus on a currently licensed nurse who gets a felony. In short, if you have a felony in your past, can it completely bar you from becoming a nurse? The short answer is no. But, it’s going to be state-specific. I’m not going to talk about one state over another. This will be a general analysis of how to determine if you can get a license or not.
First, every state is going to have different rules, unfortunately. So if you apply to one state, it might be no problem. With another, it might be a complete bar to getting licensed. Before you go into nursing school, you must think, what state do I want to end up in? Then you need to research the rules of that state to figure out what felony conviction issues there are.
Most states won’t completely bar you from licensing if you’ve had a past felony. But they will initiate an investigation and then investigate. What was the reason behind the conviction? That conviction will be a determining factor in whether you can get licensed or not.
Enrolling in Nursing School with a Felony Record
You should probably call an attorney who deals with nursing board issues in the state you want to get licensed. They’re not going to give you a “you will get licensed” or “there’s no way” answer. But they can give you some general guidelines of what they’ve done before. The rules they’ve followed as far as felonies go. Also, you can put yourself in the best position to get licensed. That’s the most efficient use of your time.
You could also go on the board’s website and find out the rules for felonies. Some states call it a “felony bar,” so Google that. But let’s say you do apply. They run a criminal background check, and it pops up. Almost every application states that if you’ve had a felony, you must disclose it. Then you’ll need to provide police records, court documents, or any documentation saying you’ve completed your sentence.
After you gather all of that, the board usually wants you to write a statement about what happened. At some point, you’ll have an interview with the board investigator. They will inquire about the reasons behind the incident. Some felony crimes will probably completely bar you from ever getting a license. Any kind of child abuse, sexual misconduct, and involving yourself in the distribution of prescription drug felonies are some examples. You’re going to have access to all the narcotics in the world when you’re a nurse. So if you have any convictions before with diverting or selling prescription meds, they’re going to be very concerned about that.
Criminal Records that Pose the Biggest Obstacle to Becoming a Nurse
Super violent crimes, adult abuse, or things that are difficult to rehabilitate from are the biggest problem for past felonies. If you have drugs, alcohol, or domestic violence problems, you can do anger management, Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, or counseling. Things you can rehabilitate from are much easier to get a license after. Meanwhile, abuse, sexual misconduct, convictions involving honesty like fraud, and identity theft, are things some people won’t consider something you can rehab from.
Just to recap. First, you must figure out what state you want to be licensed in. Second, call an attorney in that state knowledgeable about the nursing board. Ask them what are the laws around past felony convictions there?
There may not be a bunch of specific rules about the past. I know most boards will have specific implementations if you’re currently licensed and then get a felony. But not all the boards will have laws that state what’s going to happen if you’ve had a past felony. But still, talk it over. Where does the board usually look? What did they do with this type of felony in the past? If there are some steps, you can take during nursing school, like either going to AA, rehab, or counseling? Things that will then set you up and put you in a better position when you ultimately apply for your license. Those are important things that you need to think about.
So, take a deep breath. If you do have a felony, it’s not going to completely bar you from being a nurse, most likely. Just do your research, and good luck with your nursing career.
Arizona Nursing Board Questions?
Complaints, Investigations, Appeals and more!