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Ask a Nurse: I Was Arrested — Can I Become a Nurse?

November 12, 2021 · 4 Min Read

Reviewed by Shrilekha Deshaies, MSN, RN, CCRN

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Ask a Nurse: I Was Arrested — Can I Become a Nurse?
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In our Ask a Nurse series, experienced nurses provide an insider look at the nursing profession by answering your questions about nursing careers, degrees, and resources.


Question: Can I become a nurse if I was arrested?

There is no straight answer if you will qualify to become a nurse. Getting arrested can leave you with a record that may affect your chances of becoming a nurse. What you need to know is how to put yourself in the best position to get accepted into a nursing school and qualify for a nursing license.

Note that even if you are accepted into a nursing school, the licensing board in your state may bar you from receiving a nursing license.

All criminal backgrounds are different; each will require review from the nursing school you apply to and your state board of nursing. Depending on the crime, this will also determine if your application will be accepted or denied.

This article discusses how having a criminal conviction could affect getting a nursing license and how all convictions must be disclosed on applications. Not all convictions are the same, so it's good to understand your options.

How Having a Criminal Conviction Could Affect Getting a Nursing License

Many jobs ask for a criminal background check. Applying to nursing schools or for a nursing license is no exception. Having a criminal conviction, whether a misdemeanor or felony, raises red flags and will cause further investigation into your application.

As a prospective nursing student, you will have to provide additional information along with your application if you answer "yes" to questions about criminal convictions or moral conduct. You will have to collect court documents and submit them with your application. In some states, they will request an interview where you will have to explain your conviction.

Impacts for Licensed Practical Nurses, Registered Nurses, and Advanced Practice Registered Nurses

Licensed practical nurses, registered nurses, and advanced practice nurses work in various settings like nursing homes, hospitals, clinics, and extended care facilities. It is the job of the state nursing board to protect the public. This is why some applications may be denied with a conviction, whether it is a misdemeanor or felony.

Examples of Misdemeanors

  • Assault
  • Shoplifting
  • Drunk driving
  • Minor drug offenses such as drug possession

Examples of Felonies

  • Murder
  • Rape
  • Sale of drugs
  • Grand theft

All Convictions Must Be Disclosed, but Not All Convictions Are the Same

While all convictions must be disclosed on a nursing license application, not all automatically bar applicants from being approved for their license. For example, when you were convicted also plays a role in your application and whether or not it is relevant to disclose.

What Convictions Bar Applicants From Getting a Nursing License?

Many convictions will automatically disqualify you from getting a nursing license. Disqualification depends on the state. For example, in Illinois, there is a list of convictions that will automatically deny your application for a nursing license. They are:

An offense requiring registration under the Sex Offender Registration Act An offense where the sentence imposed requires registration under the Sex Offender Registration Act Involuntary sexual servitude of a minor Criminal battery against any patient in the course of patient care or treatment A forcible felony, depending on the date of your conviction and the date of your release from confinement

Check with your state nursing board to see how convictions impact your license application in your state.

What Convictions Don't Automatically Bar Applicants From Getting a Nursing License?

Some convictions don't automatically bar applicants from getting a nursing license. Again, this depends on the state. For example, in New York, certified nursing assistants, licensed practical nurses, and registered nurses do not need to disclose sealed convictions, including sealed misdemeanors or felonies.

As a registered nurse or licensed practical nurse in New York, there is no automatic disqualification for any conviction.

Similarly, in New York, youthful offender and juvenile delinquent adjudications or arrests that did not result in a conviction do not need to be disclosed. The Department of Health and the New York State Education Department are prohibited from asking about these convictions by law.

These examples are for New York specifically, so check with your state to see what requirements you may face.

What Convictions Won't Have Any Impact on Applicants Getting a Nursing License?

Some convictions won't have any impact on your application for a nursing license, including if your conviction is expunged, sealed, vacated, or reversed. Convictions that occurred when you were a juvenile may also have no impact on your application. It's important to visit your state licensing board to understand exactly what this means for you and your application.

Expunged, Sealed, Vacated, or Reversed Convictions

An expunged conviction means having a conviction legally removed or dismissed from your record. An expungement is a process, and you should seek legal advice from an attorney.

A sealed conviction is when a conviction appears to be cleared on your criminal record and can only be accessed through a court order. There are specific criteria you have to meet to get a sealed conviction. This varies by state.

A vacated conviction is when your guilty plea is removed, and the case is dismissed from the court. You must go through the court system to get a vacated conviction or get the records for a vacated conviction.

A reversed conviction typically happens through appeals. This is when you think you were wrongly convicted of a crime.

If convictions are not expunged, sealed, vacated, or reversed, you must provide a detailed explanation of open cases on your application.

How to Expunge Your Conviction

To get your conviction expunged, you will need to consult an attorney. This attorney should be familiar with expungements so they can guide you in the right direction. Expungements vary by state, but there are a few common steps to take:

STEP 1:
Make sure to disclose your criminal record to your state board of registered nursing. Withholding your criminal record can be grounds for the board to deny your application completely.

STEP 2:
Once your criminal record is expunged, you might have to provide a letter to your state board of nursing when you apply for your license.

STEP 3:
A letter of rehabilitation is a great way to show you have taken steps toward self-improvement. Examples include describing counseling, recovery, and rehabilitation programs, letters of recommendation, or employer evaluations.

Criminal Charges and Nursing School

Criminal charges influence applicants and those enrolled in nursing school. Some nursing schools will perform a background check; others may not. If you want to have a better chance of getting into a nursing school, research schools that are more lenient on criminal charges.

Next Steps: Understanding Your Options

If you aspire to become a nurse, it is important to advocate for yourself and document sincere efforts of self-improvement. All situations are different, but everyone should be considered for a second chance.

To check to see if an arrest record is an issue, always start with the school you are applying to, your state board, the Department of Health, and your state's education department.

In Summary:

  • There is no straight answer if you can qualify to be a nurse with an arrest record, and it varies by state.
  • While you must disclose all convictions on a nursing license application, not all automatically bar applicants from being approved.
  • Some convictions won't have any impact on your application for a nursing license, including if your conviction is expunged, sealed, vacated, or reversed.
  • To get your conviction expunged, you will need to consult an attorney.
  • Start with the school you are applying to, your state board, the Department of Health, or your state's education department to see how an arrest record may impact you.

In our Ask a Nurse series, experienced nurses provide an insider look at the nursing profession by answering your questions about nursing careers, degrees, and resources.

Reviewed by:

Shri Deshaies is a nurse educator with over 20 years of experience teaching in hospital, nursing school, and community settings. As a certified critical care nurse, Deshaies has worked in various surgical ICUs throughout her career, including cardiovascular, trauma, and neurosurgery.

Shri Deshaies is a paid member of the Red Ventures Education freelance review network. Learn more about our review partners.

NurseJournal.org is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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