man in handcuffs

Even the best of us may sometimes find ourselves on the other side of the law, facing a conviction for a felony.

Will this event permanently kill your plan of becoming a nurse? Can you still dream of becoming a nurse even after being convicted of a crime?

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Can You Be a Nurse with a Felony?

It's not easy, but the answer is YES, you can become a nurse with a felony in some instances. Your state's Board of Nursing (BON) has the discretion to issue a nursing license to an individual who has shown they have changed and want to follow a law-abiding life. 

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What is a Felony?

Whenever you break the law, you commit a crime. These crimes are divided into categories of misdemeanor and felony.

A misdemeanor denotes a less serious crime and carries a sentence of less than one-year imprisonment. A felony is considered more serious, punishable by a prison sentence of longer than one year.

Felonies and misdemeanors are rated as minor or severe, according to the amount of harm the crime caused another person or property.

So if you, in a moment of weakness, steal lipstick from a department store, it's considered less severe than when you plan and rob a bank, holding up the staff at gunpoint.

When applying for a nursing license after you have already paid your debt to society, the State Nursing Board will consider the severity and nature of your crime when deciding whether you can join the ranks of nurses. 

How Does BON Decide Whether to Accept or Reject an Applicant with a Criminal Record?

crimes that can lead to your nursing license being revoked by your BON

When you apply for a nursing license and have a criminal record, it's up to the appropriate nursing board to grant or refuse the license.

The board will consider all the mitigating factors you can present and decide whether you may or may not practice as a nurse in the state. Most cases are decided individually. 

Certain crimes can lead to permanent disbarment or refusal to license applicants. These include, among others:

  • Sex crimes.
  • Causing a significant physical injury to another person.
  • Committing a high-level robbery.
  • Manufacturing, delivering, and dealing of controlled substances.
  • If you have been convicted of fraud, deception, or lying. 

What Are The Conditions that Help You Get a Nursing License After a Conviction?

conditions that help you get a nursing license after conviction

The State Boards of Nursing must ensure that the licensed practitioners in their states are honest, reliable, and trustworthy individuals to protect the public.

They are also aware that sometimes life circumstances force people to make choices they later regret.

To ensure they award second chances to those who truly deserve it, each state board has established its criteria for handling applications for licensing candidates with a criminal record.

In some states, like Texas and Arizona, the nursing board will require the applicant to wait five years once their prison sentence is completed before applying for a nursing license.

Texas Nursing Board also considers how old you were when you broke the law.

For instance, if you were under 22 years old, those crimes are likely to count less against you as they will be passed off as the indiscretions of youth.

Another thing you can do to increase your chances of getting your license application approved is to show the board you have changed, and you live now as a law-abiding citizen.

If you can show, you have spent time working towards public service. Maybe, you volunteer at a church counseling group or help out in a nursing home, taking care of the vulnerable.

Get a character testimonial from the person in charge to show that you have left your criminal past behind.

You may also try to apply for a license in states who do not do criminal background checks like Colorado, Hawaii, Maine, New Hampshire, New York, and Wisconsin. They assess each case before deciding whether a nursing license can be issued. 

Pro-Tip
Bear in mind if you're refused a license in one state, it does not automatically mean your application won't be successful in another state.

Final Thoughts

Yes, life can throw curveballs at us unexpectedly, but that doesn't mean the end for your nursing career goals and living a productive life.

If you want to be a nurse, get into nursing school, pass nursing school, pass your NCLEX, and apply for a nursing license.

Your past might make it harder than it otherwise would, but it doesn't necessarily mean it's unattainable.

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Search our school database to find schools and get information on the right programs for you. (Don't worry, it's fast and free!)

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Frequently Asked Questions

A criminal history can disqualify you from being a nurse. Along with that conviction related to DUI, violence or fraudulent behavior may keep you from being a nurse.

It's possible to be a nurse with a felony conviction. You have to jump through many more hoops to see if the board of nursing will allow you to become a nurse.

It's possible to become a registered nurse with a felony conviction. One must jump through many hoops to see if the board of nursing will allow the person to become a nurse.

Yes, it's possible to have a criminal conviction and become a nurse in California. The California Board of Nursing will have to approve your application. It's not guaranteed but criminal convictions are not an automatic disqualification from being a licensed nurse.

You do not need to mention the conviction if it's an expunged conviction.