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Understanding the Legal Issues that Could Affect your Nursing License

If you’ve come to find yourself in the unfortunate situation of being arrested, you’re probably scared and filled with anxiety. It’s a terrible experience for anyone. Worse yet, you find out that your career may be on the line all due to an honest mistake.

As a nursing professional, it’s important to understand the rules and regulations regarding your license. Knowing how to prevent issues before they occur and what to do after can make all the difference in keeping your license and your livelihood.

Criminal convictions can affect your nursing license; they can affect other medical professionals’ licenses as well, such as doctors or therapists.

Each state has slightly different laws, although there are some general principles that remain common from state to state. It’s important to avoid a criminal conviction whenever possible, as employers do have the right to ask you about your criminal history when you apply for a job or come in for an interview. The threat to health care providers’ livelihood from such a conviction can be substantial, as a medical license is essential to being able to perform one’s job.

In most states, medical professionals convicted of a crime can face suspension, revocation or restrictions of their medical licenses. A felony conviction is generally considered “professional misconduct.”

The criminal conviction does not need to be related to the practice of medicine in order to affect your work. For example, tax evasion is frequently considered a crime of moral turpitude significant enough to lead to state board discipline.

Federal health care programs like Medicaid and Medicare may also exclude health care providers convicted of crimes, including nonviolent financial offenses like embezzlement as well as assault, rape or murder. Many state boards rely on a standard of “moral turpitude” to determine whether a particular offense – including a misdemeanor – could affect a health care professional’s medical license. DUI or DWI convictions are a more common legal issue, and the effect a conviction has on a medical license can vary from state to state.

In most cases, professionals are required to report their convictions to the state licensing board. However, it will not necessarily trigger disciplinary action. This is especially true if it is the first offense, no injuries were involved, there were no other passengers or no accident was caused.

On the other hand, a repeat DUI conviction or one that involved injuries to other people or a serious accident may be more likely to trigger discipline. In some states, any controlled substance conviction, including one for misdemeanor marijuana offenses, can lead to discipline by the state nursing board. In all cases, the board will generally assess when the incident took place, whether any type of violence was involved, whether it involved sexual exploitation or violation and how severe the incident was.

If you have a legal issue or are facing criminal charges, it is critical that you act first to report the incident to your medical licensing board, such as the State Board of Nursing.

In most states, you are required to report the issue as soon as possible; after this, the board will review the case and assess whether it will lead to disciplinary action and what kind of discipline is at stake. These issues are often handled on a case-by-case basis, as each situation is different and is evaluated on the basis of individual circumstances.

However, failing to report the incident could lead to serious consequences; in California, failing to report is an offense subject to a $5,000 fine. When reporting to the state nursing board, you will generally need to provide information about yourself and your attorney in addition to the specifics of an indictment or charge, such as the court address and case number. In case of a conviction, the report will include the date of conviction, the violations involved, the sentencing issued and other relevant facts.

Nurses and other healthcare professionals need to be prepared in order to navigate the process effectively and protect their licenses. Health care professionals don’t only need to defend themselves in court; they also need to present a strong defense to the state board. Therefore, your lawyer should be familiar not only with the state’s penal code but also with public health regulations.

This is not the time to go it alone; accused health care professionals may have their careers on the line, and an experienced healthcare criminal defense attorney can help.

In some cases, defense lawyers may commonly negotiate a plea agreement for a reduced sentence or to avoid a court appearance; however, this situation is more complicated for medical professionals dealing with the consequences of a criminal conviction. Therefore, a lawyer who is well-versed in both professional licensing issues as well as criminal defense is a much better fit for a comprehensive defense for the accused health care professional.

In many states, any conviction must be reported within 30 days to the relevant Board of Nursing or other medical board. The report of the conviction should also be constructed in order to defend your interests and protect your career. Your attorney can also work with you to develop the report in order to present you in the best light possible. By working with an experienced healthcare professional licensing and criminal defense attorney, you can present a strong defense that works to avoid the potentially serious consequences of a conviction.

By: Andrew Nickel, The Law Office of Andrew Nickel

Andrew Nickel is the founder of The Law Offices of Andrew Nickel, and has spent his entire legal career dedicated to all areas of criminal and family law. Prior to his years in private practice, Mr. Nickel spent nearly five years as a prosecutor in both Kane and Kendall Counties in Illinois, where he handled a wide variety of cases including traffic, misdemeanors, felonies, and DUI cases.


Thank you Andrew for this terrific article!