Having a felony on your record creates all kinds of problems that have lasting effects. One major area of your life that is affected by a felony conviction is your career. A felony makes everything harder, especially where professional licenses are concerned.
Nursing is a great career, there’s no doubt about that, but can a felon be a nurse? Can you enroll in nursing school with a felony, and will you be able to get your nursing license?
In this guide, we’ll cover the main areas where your felony could be an obstacle to your dream of becoming a nurse.
Can A Felon Be A Nurse in 2023?
Nursing is a professional career. To become a nurse, you need to attend nursing school, qualify, obtain your nursing license, and then find a job.
In some cases, it will be possible to become a nurse with a felony on your record, but in others, the type of felony will mean that you can’t pursue a career in nursing.
Each nursing school has its own entry requirements, each State Board of Nursing has specific licensing requirements, and every hospital, nursing home, or doctor’s office will carry out a background check before they employ you.
So there are 3 questions we need to consider.
- Can you get into nursing school with a felony?
- Can you get a nursing license with a felony?
- Can you get a job as a nurse with a felony?
Can You Get Into Nursing School With A Felony?
The first step to becoming a nurse is obtaining your Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree (BSN). Many colleges offer this 4-year degree course, but the colleges also carry out criminal background checks on students.
Nursing schools conduct thorough background checks using your fingerprint records to search the FBI database. Checks will go back at least 10 years.
This doesn’t mean that your college application will be automatically turned down because of your felony, but you will probably be asked to provide extra information before they will consider your application.
Colleges, especially the good ones, often have more applicants than available spots on their nursing courses, and admissions officers can pick and choose who they want to offer places to.
The other issue that could prevent a nursing school from accepting you are the requirements of the clinical site they partner with. If the hospital that the nursing school uses for clinical rotations doesn’t accept students with your type of felony conviction, then the school won’t offer you a place.
You’ll need to call or email colleges and find out what the situation is before you start making applications. And it’s a good idea to apply to multiple colleges so that you have a better chance of being accepted.
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Can You Get A Nursing License With A Felony?
The answer to this question is it depends.
Nursing licenses are issued by your State Board of Nursing and each board has its own rules regarding the type of felony offense committed, how long ago the offense occurred, and the evidence of rehabilitation they will consider.
As part of the licensing process, boards make a thorough criminal background check, and you can’t hide your offense and hope they won’t find it, because they will. Neglecting to mention an offense on your license application will result in an automatic refusal.
Before you even think about calling nursing schools, you’ll need to contact your State Board of Nursing and find out if you would be eligible for a nursing license.
Unfortunately, boards can sometimes be unhelpful and instead of giving you a straight answer, they’ll tell you that your criminal history will be reviewed when you apply for your license.
That doesn’t help you at all, and you need a better answer before you spend time and money attending a nursing school.
If your state board doesn’t give you a clear answer about your felony conviction, you’ll need to do some legwork.
Search online for the following, “state board of nursing felony bar” followed by your state. For example, “state board of nursing felony bar Ohio”.
You should be able to find the regulations that your state board follows regarding criminal convictions.
But again, you may not get a solid answer. With our Ohio example, the regulations cite a long list of offenses that may disqualify an applicant. Which puts you back at square one.
So what’s next, if you can’t get a straight answer? Call an attorney.
If you contact a lawyer who specializes in nursing board cases, the lawyer will be able to review your history and then give you an opinion, based on their experience with the board, about your chances of receiving a nursing license in your state.
These lawyers usually represent registered nurses who are fighting to hold on to their nursing license after being charged with or convicted of an offense.
They will know what offenses led to nurses losing their license and which offenses the board cleared. They will also tell you if there are any actions you can take which will help you when you apply for your license.
For example, if you have a felony DUI, then attending AA or completing a rehab program would work in your favor.
A lawyer won’t give you a cast-iron guarantee that the nursing board will grant you a license, but they’ll be able to give you a pretty good idea.
And when it’s time to apply for your nursing license, if you have to appear before the board to make your case, you should definitely have a lawyer attend the hearing with you.
Which Felony Offenses Will Disqualify You From Obtaining A Nursing License?
All states will in general refuse to issue nursing licenses to individuals convicted of child abuse, sexual offenses, and offenses that involved the sale or misuse of prescription drugs.
Each state will differ regarding other disqualifying offenses, but they will have plenty of common ground. Let’s look at what the Nevada State Board of Nursing has to say, to get an idea.
Nevada board staff have the discretion to clear a felony offense if a single felony offense took place more than 10 years ago and all sentencing requirements have been met.
This is only the case when the offense isn’t one involving moral turpitude, or which doesn’t relate to the qualification or duties of a licensee.
For an offense to be classified as a crime involving moral turpitude, there has to be deliberate intent to do ill.
In Nevada crimes of moral turpitude include but aren’t limited to:
- Voluntary manslaughter
- Lewdness with a minor under 16
- Some types of theft
- Some types of burglary
- Carrying a concealed weapon with the intent to use
If a single felony offense occurred within the last 10 years or was an offense of moral turpitude, the board may still consider a license application. A candidate will be invited to appear before the board to present evidence about the circumstances surrounding the offense and evidence of rehabilitation. If the board grants a license, it may be subject to restrictions.
The regulations go on to state that even though a license may be granted to an individual with a certain offense on their record, they will not be able to work in any capacity in any of the following settings:
- A facility for intermediate care
- A facility for skilled nursing
- Home health care
- Group residential facilities
The disqualifying felonies are:
- Murder, manslaughter, or mayhem
- Assault with intent to kill
- Sexual assault or any other sexually related crime
- Domestic violence
- Abuse or neglect of a child
- Distribution or use of a controlled substance (poisons or prescription drugs) within the past 7 years
- Elder abuse
- Violations relating to the State Plan for Medicaid or any criminal offense relating to Medicaid or Medicare within the past 7 years
- Fraud, theft, embezzlement, burglary, and robbery, within the last 7 years
- Felony involving force or the threat of force or violence
- Use of a firearm or other deadly weapon
The disqualifying misdemeanors within the last 7 years are:
- Lewdness or indecent exposure
- Any sexual crime
- Domestic violence
Aside from the list of offenses, the big takeaway is the 10-year period that needs to have passed since the felony took place. Remember this is the law in Nevada and other states may have shorter disqualifying periods.
In Arizona for example, the felony bar is 3 years from the completion of all sentencing requirements – an absolute discharge.
If you’re willing to move to another state, then finding out which state has the least limitations for felony convictions could be a worthwhile endeavor.
Can You Get A Job As A Nurse With A Felony?
Assuming you haven’t been discouraged by the potential school and licensing issues, you’re probably still thinking, “So can I become a nurse with a felony and actually find a job?”
When all is said and done, that’s the goal, isn’t it? To get a stable, well-paid nursing job.
Again, this is an area where you’ll have to do your research. One hospital could say no felonies in the last 10 years, another could say no felonies in the last 5 years, and another could decide on a case-by-case basis. The same is true for nursing homes and any other potential employer in the medical field.
If you obtain a nursing license, you’ll get a job somewhere, but you need to make sure that you can be hired in a role that makes all of the time, effort, and expense worth your while.
This is where speaking to a lawyer will provide some answers. A lawyer who deals with nursing license cases will be able to tell you, in general, if the medical facilities in your area are likely to hire someone with your record.
When they defend registered nurses in licensing hearings, they also get to know about the employment situation and often step in to resolve issues with the employer, so they have a good idea about the offenses that result in termination.
If, for example, the city hospital consistently fires nurses over offense A, and you have offense A on your record, that would be useful information to have. Likewise, if the hospital doesn’t have an issue with offense B, and that’s your offense, then knowing that will help you decide how to proceed.
A half-hour sits down with a lawyer to go over your record and get advice about licensing and employment prospects will be money well spent.
There are plenty of registered nurses working right now in hospitals, care homes, doctor’s offices, schools, etc, who are convicted felons. So becoming a nurse and getting a great job isn’t impossible.
Can you be a nurse with a felony conviction? It depends. Very serious offenses and offenses involving prescription drugs will generally mean you won’t be able to get a nursing license.
But there are a huge number of offenses that fall into the felony category, and many of those felonies won’t prevent you from taking up a nursing career. The type of felony and how long ago it took place will determine the outcome.
You’ll face a background check when you apply to nurse school, when you apply for your state nursing license, and when you apply for jobs. Because of the nature of the work, the background checks are very thorough and will uncover any offenses on your record. With each of those background checks, you could face rejection.
You should do your homework so you know what you’re getting into. It costs a lot of money to get a nursing degree, and it takes a lot of time, effort, and dedication. You need to feel confident about your ability to get a nursing license and a job before you commit to that career path.
Your best course of action at this point is to schedule a sit down with a lawyer who specializes in nursing board cases and get some professional advice.
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Robert Eric (a lover of Cats and Dogs) is the co-founder of HireFelonsJobs. In our search for a better life, after… A platform was created for the purpose of easing the search for ex-convicts.