A nursing student claimed she was being accused of “computer trespassing” and petty larceny at the clinic where she worked.
She said she was innocent of these accusations and that the real culprit was a co-worker who had stolen her ID card and subsequently left the state. After being informed that she could face misdemeanor charges, she became concerned that a conviction would keep her from qualifying for an RN license.
This situation raised these questions:
- Was she working at the clinic as a student nurse or on her own time?
- What ID card did the accused offender take, and how does she know the offender left the state?
- Does she know the offender’s name?
- Did she contest the charges with the clinic through its disciplinary and grievance policy, and if she was working there as a student, did she follow her school’s policy to contest the allegations as well?
Nurse Practice Acts and Convictions
State nurse practice acts and their respective rules define how boards of nursing determine if an individual is eligible to obtain an RN license.
The requirements consist of educational and other mandates, an application for a nursing license, and successfully passing the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) exam once cleared for eligibility to sit for the exam.
One mandate reviewed by a board of nursing for applicants is whether a felony or misdemeanor conviction exists. The application for licensure requires an honest answer to whether or not a conviction has occurred. Some states also require Criminal Background Checks for applicants.
Moreover, some nurse practice acts state that the misdemeanor or felony need not be related to the practice of nursing, while others specifically declare that such a connection exists.
Depending on the state, there could be additional requirements for applicants, including whether the conviction was expunged (removing the conviction from a person’s criminal history through a legal process) or whether the criminal court record has been sealed.
Certain states clearly prohibit issuing healthcare licenses when offenses involve sex crimes, misdemeanors involving violence, or fraud.
These requirements do not absolutely prohibit an applicant with a conviction from obtaining an RN license. Rather, each applicant with a conviction is handled by the applicable state board of nursing on a case-by-case basis.
How Might This Applicant Fare?
Because so many issues remain unanswered in this situation, my response can be based only on assumptions.
If the student was working on her own, hopefully she grieved the allegations that her employer reported to the police, which resulted in the criminal charges against her.
Grieving work allegations is essential in supporting that the claims are untrue. Even if the grievance isn’t successful, utilizing the employer’s grievance policy to challenge the charges arguably supports their untruth. In contrast, not grieving the assertions arguably supports their truth.
The student did not say she had been terminated from the nursing education program, so I can assume she is still a student and the nursing program is supporting her at this time (since there is no conviction to date). If this assumption is true, it is hoped that she took advantage of any policies the nursing education program offered nursing students to contest such claims. That way, they do not remain unaddressed in the event that a conviction would result and a dismissal from the nursing education program occurs.
The student did not share if her attorney is recommending a trial or is counseling her to plead guilty to the charges.
The latter option seems without merit based on what the student has shared. However, it may be that she has no evidence to support her statements that it was a co-worker who performed these alleged acts and left the state. If the student has no evidence to support her statements, the attorney may have evaluated the case as unwinnable and also financially too costly to her for such an outcome.
What Can You Learn From This Case?
The most important guideline to remember is that if you are unfortunate enough to have a conviction against you, it does not mean you are automatically unable to obtain a license to practice nursing. It does mean, however, that you must do the following:
- Retain a nurse attorney or an attorney to work with you when filing an application for a nursing license.
- Follow all requirements in the nurse practice act and rules concerning your conviction with your attorney’s guidance. This must be done regardless of whether you’re facing a felony or a misdemeanor. (Check your state’s nurse practice act and rules).
- Disclose your conviction, both on the application and in any documents you receive from the board.
- Provide requested details, perhaps even supporting court or other records about the conviction. Your attorney will help you with these details and guide you to honestly state what happened and to include mitigating circumstances (e.g., grievances completed, co-worker information).
- Appear before the board with your attorney (if so requested) to determine your credibility and so that the board can interview you further surrounding your criminal conviction.
The board will render its decision. If adverse, your attorney will counsel you about your legal options. If the board decision allows you to sit for the NCLEX, it will want to meet with you if you successfully pass and if it has not determined any conditions on your license at the initial meeting.
These conditions may include a probationary time period on your RN license or requiring you to take a CE course on HIPAA and its importance in maintaining confidentiality in nursing practice. In either case, it is essential that you follow its stipulations.
Take these courses to learn more about protecting patients and yourself:
HIPAA and Confidentiality: Practice May Change, But Principles Endure
(1 contact hr)
In this course, you will learn about parts of HIPAA, especially as they concern nursing and other health professionals and the protection of healthcare information. Because you play a key role in the production of healthcare information, you play a key role in its protection.
Everyday Ethics for Nurses
(7.3 contact hrs)
This course provides an overview of bioethics as it applies to healthcare and nursing in the U.S. The course explains the elements of ethical decision-making as they apply both to the care of patients and to ethics committees. The course concludes with a look at the ethical challenges involved in physician-assisted suicide, organ transplantation, and genetic testing.
Protect Yourself: Know Your Nurse Practice Act
(1 contact hr)
Nurses have an obligation to keep abreast of current issues related to the regulation of the practice of nursing not only in their respective states but also across the nation. Nurses have a duty to patients to practice in a safe, competent, and responsible manner. This requires nurse licensees to practice in conformity with their state statutes and regulations. This course outlines information about nurse practice acts and how they affect nursing practice.