Can you become a nurse with a criminal record?
If you have any prior criminal history, you may be wondering if you would be able to go to nursing school. The answer is: maybe. Read on to learn the dos and don’ts of attending nursing school if you have any type of criminal history.
Nursing is known to be a noble profession, and nurses are one of the most trusted professions in the United States. Because of this State Boards of Nursing are very particular about who they allow to sit for the NCLEX nursing licensing exams. If you can’t sit for the exams, you can’t become a nurse. If you have a history of any violent crime, such as murder, manslaughter, or any violent sexual crime, such as child molestation or rape, forget becoming a nurse. It just won’t happen. Of course you are free to check with your states’ board of nursing to be sure, but in almost all cases not only will the nursing board not allow you to sit for the nursing licensing exam, but nursing schools will not accept you into their programs. The nursing boards do this to protect the public from violent and/or dangerous offenders.
However, if you have a less serious offense on your record, such as DWI/DUI, minor drug offenses or petty theft charges you may be able to go to nursing school and become a nurse. Ultimately this decision lies with your states’ Board of Nursing. Many times schools will accept people with prior offenses to their nursing programs and allow them to complete their program of study. They then tell the student when it is time to sit for their NCLEX (state licensure exam) that they must contact their state board of nursing to get their permission to be able to take the exam. Something it is very important for students to understand is that nursing schools are NOT obligated to ensure you will be able to take the state nurse licensure exam. The majority of schools may help the student out when they go in front of the board for permission to test, by providing a positive character reference for the student, but it is ultimately NOT the schools’ responsibility to make sure you will be able to sit for the NCLEX! This issue is between the student and the Board of Nursing. Even if you complete every part of your nursing training to the schools’ satisfaction you may still not be able to become a nurse if your state board says you can not take the test. It is so important that students understand this, and take responsibility for their own ability to take the state exam and become a nurse. I once worked as a clinical nursing instructor for an LPN program and one of my students successfully completed the whole nursing program but the state of Indiana would not allow her to take the licensing exam because of past criminal charges. This was in 2009, and to my knowledge as of 2016 she still has not been permitted to take the NCLEX exam and get her nursing license. What a gigantic waste of money and time for her!
If you will be attending nursing school with a criminal record, it is vital that you start out being open and honest with the school you will be attending. Almost every nursing school now requires nursing students to obtain a background criminal history check, so it would be nearly impossible to hide past charges from a nursing school. Not only that, most schools reserve the right to dismiss (aka kick out) students who are dishonest in their application to the nursing school. You may think you can hide it from your school, only to get kicked out of the program later on when the school finds out you lied to them.
Make sure you have a discussion with the head or director of your school about your criminal history, and not just a teacher or academic adviser. The last thing you want is someone to give you misinformation or the wrong answer to your questions. It is imperative you make sure you have accurate information on what you can do to get the situation worked out. It may be possible while you are still in school (or even before starting school) that you can meet with your states’ board of nursing to discuss if you would be able to sit for the NCLEX exam once you complete your nursing program. Some states’ boards of nursing will even give eligible students who meet with them a declarative statement in advance that will allow them to take the licensure exam once they graduate nursing school. Of course, this all depends on your particular Board of Nursing.
If you are wanting to attend nursing school and have any past criminal history, I highly recommend you start to do your own research on your states’ board of nursing requirements for allowing you to take the NCLEX exam when you graduate. You can click here for a listing of each states’ Board of Nursing contact information, as well as many other countries’ Boards of Nursing.
The most important piece of advice for hopeful nursing students who have past criminal charges is to always, always, always be completely honest about the situation. Dishonesty about your past will only hurt you in the long run, either by getting kicked out of nursing school or working so hard to pass nursing school only to be told you can’t sit for the licensure exam and become a nurse. Take responsibility for your own actions and understand that it is up to you to ensure you put in the action required to have the opportunity to become a nurse. Remember, the state looks at being able to get a nursing license and practicing as a nurse is a privilege, not a right, and so should you. It takes a special person to be a nurse, and just because you may have a mistake in your past it doesn’t mean you’re not that person!
Thinking about attending nursing school and have a criminal record? Or are you a practicing nurse that has past charges against them? Please share your story in the comments below!