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It's possible to become a registered nurse when you have a criminal background. It depends on the circumstances, the state in which you live, when you committed the crime, whether your criminal record was expunged and other factors. In addition to felonies, crimes that indicate you are dishonest or may be unethical can also affect your ability to obtain a license. In some cases a criminal record can keep you out of nursing school, while in others, the nursing school may accept you but the state board of nursing will not issue a license. There is no hard and fast answer to the question, so it is important to research the regulations in your state.
Protecting the Public
Registered nurses take care of children, elders and others who may be vulnerable to abuse, harm or fraud. Each state has a board of nursing that oversees and regulates nursing practices within the state. State nursing boards are also charged with protecting the public. Applicants who have a criminal history must supply additional information compared to the average applicant. For example, someone with a criminal background might need to provide court records related to her crime. She might also have to submit to a lengthy investigation. Boards often have wide latitude in determining why an applicant should not be issued a license. The North Carolina Justice Center website notes that the board can deny a license for any crime that makes the applicant unfit or incompetent to practice nursing.
Criminal Backgrounds Vary
A criminal background can cover a wide range of infractions, ranging from shoplifting or drug possession to rape and homicide. In some cases, multiple arrests for traffic offenses result in a criminal record. Many nursing schools perform background checks and determine whether to accept someone based on what they find. In addition to convictions for a crime, having a pending charge on your record can affect your ability to get into nursing school, according to the Boise State University website.
State Regulations Vary
The state board of nursing issues RNs a license to practice. When you apply for a license, the board will perform a criminal background check. The licensing board evaluates each case individually. In some cases, the board will automatically deny a license, no matter what the extenuating circumstances are. In Oregon, for example, people who have been convicted as adults of murder or manslaughter, kidnapping, rape or child abandonment are not eligible for an RN license. In other cases, the board of nursing will review the specific case. A conviction for theft, for example, might not disqualify you if there were extenuating circumstances or the crime occurred many years ago.
Improving Your Chances
To improve your chances of obtaining a license, you should present the board with detailed and truthful information about your criminal background, according to an article on the website of the Higbee & Associates law firm. In California, for example, you might be asked to provide information about cases that have been expunged or removed from your record, convictions that occurred before you were 18, and military convictions. If the board denies your application, you might be able to appeal.
Clearing Your Record
If you were arrested but never tried or convicted, you can petition the court to seal your record, which means employers cannot obtain the information. If were convicted, you may be able to have the conviction expunged. This is a legal process in which the conviction is removed from your record, though you must still disclose the crime to the Board of Nursing. If you have a criminal history, consult a lawyer to see what you can do to achieve your goal of becoming an RN.
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- North Carolina Justice Center: Frequently Asked Questions
- RecordGone.com: Pursuing a Nursing Career in California with a Criminal Record
- Oregon State Board of Nursing: How a Criminal History Can Affect the Licensure Process
- Boise State University: Background Checks and Drug Testing Are Required for All Nursing Students Each Semester
Beth Greenwood is an RN and has been a writer since 2010. She specializes in medical and health topics, as well as career articles about health care professions. Greenwood holds an Associate of Science in nursing from Shasta College.
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