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 towards 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. If you’re just charged with a crime, it doesn’t mean you’ve ultimately been found guilty. 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, let’s just say one misdemeanor possession of marijuana from 20 years ago, that is not going to keep you from getting your nursing license.
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, and then anything that pops up in that criminal background check, they’re likely going to 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 nurses that are safe, that don’t have drug problems. Other blogs of interest include:
And the board’s stated mission is to protect the public. They’re not there to protect the nurse, so they’re going to see, alright, well, how many different misdemeanor drug charges or convictions do they have? If you’ve had 15 in the last three years, that is a big problem, and you are probably not going to 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 think about how much time has elapsed from when you had your last conviction until when you applied, and then how many did 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 is going to want to know, alright, well, 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 or got away from an abusive spouse or something like that. There must be a change if there’s just a big cluster of drug problems at a time, there has to be some change in some rehabilitation for the board to feel comfortable to issue a license.
Let’s just say it’s a recent number of drug charges, and they think, maybe this nurse hasn’t done what they need to do, it’s certainly possible that 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, then your license would no longer be encumbered. Now, one bad thing about being placed on probation is if an alternative to discipline program is not available for you. In an alternative discipline program, in most states, there’s 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, well, even if I do get a license, if I have this blemish on it forever, is that going to dampen the chances of me maybe 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. 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.
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