Can You Be a Nurse With a Felony?

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Written by Marie Hasty, BSN, RN Content Writer, IntelyCare
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Reviewed by Aldo Zilli, Esq. Senior Manager, B2B Content, IntelyCare
A nurse calls her lawyer to discuss, Can you be a nurse with a felony?

If you’re wondering, Can you be a nurse with a felony?, you might fall into one of two categories. Either you’ve been convicted of a criminal charge and you’re considering nursing school, or you’re facing criminal charges and you’re already a nurse. While having a felony conviction on your record will complicate either scenario, it doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t be a nurse.

Felonies are serious crimes that can include the following charges:

  • Rape
  • Sexual assault
  • Certain drug crimes
  • Child pornography
  • White collar crimes
  • Murder
  • Aggravated assault with a deadly weapon
  • Grand theft

If you’re already a nurse, whether or not you can keep your license with a felony will depend on your state board of nursing (BON) and the specific criminal charges you were convicted of. State boards of nursing review cases individually and will consider the nature of the crime, how long it’s been since you committed it, and evidence of rehabilitation.

If you have a criminal background and you’re thinking about nursing school, know that you’ll need to disclose any criminal convictions when you apply for school, licensure exams, and jobs. Be sure that if you can get into nursing school, you can qualify to register for the NCLEX as well. Most applications require a criminal background check, but they may have different criteria for people with a criminal history.

In both cases, swift honesty can give you a better chance of getting and keeping a nursing license. Attempting to hide or not disclosing a charge can hurt your reputation with the board and endanger your license.

What Charges Can Stop You From Being a Nurse?

Since nursing licenses are regulated by individual states, the answer to this question will depend on where you live and plan to practice. For example, in Ohio, the following charges automatically bar applicants from getting a nursing license:

  • Aggravated arson
  • Aggravated burglary
  • Sexual battery
  • Gross sexual imposition
  • Aggravated robbery
  • Murder
  • Aggravated Murder
  • Voluntary Manslaughter
  • Felonious assault
  • Kidnapping
  • Rape

Your state’s board of nursing reserves the right to deny or restrict a license for someone who has committed any type of felony, crimes involving immorality, misdemeanor drug crimes, or misdemeanors during nursing practice. Check your state’s BON site for specific charges that could prevent you from getting or keeping a license there.

Can You Be a Nurse With a Criminal Record At All?

What if you have something other than a felony on your criminal record? Your situation will depend on the specifics of the crime, your state, and when the crime was committed.

For example, in Utah, if you apply for licensure after committing vehicular burglary in the past 13–48 months, you can still get a nursing license. But if you’ve committed the same crime within the past year, the Utah BON will need to review your application before approving you for licensure.

It all depends on where you practice. In other states, whether you can be a nurse may be determined by how long it’s been since you were charged. Can you be a nurse with a felony in Arizona, for example? It depends on the crime, but generally you’re eligible to apply for nursing licensure three years after finishing the prescribed sentence. This includes any financial charges, parole, or community service that may have been required. If the conviction is reduced to a misdemeanor at any point, this three-year bar may be removed.

Generally, boards of nursing cast an especially negative view on violent and sexual crimes. Being a nurse requires compassion, empathy, and patience, and nurses are with patients when they are vulnerable. Nursing boards are wary of applicants who have a history of hurting or taking advantage of people.

What Can You Do If You Have a Criminal Record?

If you have a criminal record, there are specific things you can do to give yourself a better chance of board approval. If you’ve been convicted of a felony or misdemeanor before, but it doesn’t bar you from practicing in your state, participating in one of the following rehabilitation measures could help show the board that you can still practice:

  • Anger management
  • Cognitive-behavioral programs
  • Alcoholics Anonymous
  • Substance abuse monitoring programs

Additionally, there are certain measures you can take after a conviction to have it altered in — or even removed from — your record. The first step is to consult with an attorney in your state. While they may not be able to give you a definitive answer right away, they can help advise you on your options, which may include:

  • Having your record expunged. This involves removing or dismissing a conviction from your record. In many states, you are not required to disclose expunged charges.
  • Having your record sealed, which means your conviction won’t appear on a background check, but can be seen with a court order.
  • Having your record vacated. This refers toa guilty plea that has been removed and dismissed from court.
  • Having your record reversed, which means a charge has been removed, usually through the appeals process.

What If You Have a Criminal Record And…

…You’re Applying to Nursing School

Still wondering, Can you be a nurse with a felony? Consult the following organizations’ websites and policies to see if you can qualify for admittance and a license:

  • The school you’re applying to
  • State board of nursing
  • State department of health

…You’re in Nursing School

If you’re in nursing school and are convicted of a new criminal charge, you’ll need to tell your school right away. Acting quickly and honestly will give you the best chance of being able to stay in your program. Depending on the state, you may need to disclose the charge to your state’s board of nursing as well.

…You’re a Registered Nurse

Similarly, if you’re convicted of a crime as a nurse, you’ll need to disclose the charges to your state board of nursing right away. You may also need to tell your employer.

Some states require you to report specific types of crime within a time frame. Felonies, impaired driving charges, and controlled substance charges need to be reported swiftly. Other issues, such as traffic violations, might not need to be reported, but you’ll need to check with your BON to learn their policies.

Find Nursing Jobs that Fit Your Life

If you’ve committed a crime, can you be a nurse? With a felony, it depends. Need help looking for career opportunities? Find out how IntelyCare can send you nursing job notifications right to your inbox.

Legal Disclaimer: This article contains general legal information, but it is not intended to constitute professional legal advice for any particular situation and should not be relied on as professional legal advice. Any references to the law may not be current as laws regularly change through updates in legislation, regulation, and case law at the federal and state level. Nothing in this article should be interpreted as creating an attorney-client relationship. If you have legal questions, you should seek the advice of an attorney licensed to practice in your jurisdiction.