As a nurse, it may surprise you to learn that drug tests may be a normal part of your new routine.

While these tests are important for keeping patients safe, they may cause you unnecessary stress. Here is what you need to know about drug tests for nurses.

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Do Nurses Get Drug Tested?

Drug testing nurses does not happen frequently. It’s common to experience this at least once or twice during your career. Your state may have specific rules relating to drug testing that may eliminate random drug testing or that may allow your employer to institute more stringent testing policies.

When and Why Might Nurses Be Drug Tested?

Regular and frequent drug tests are not normally pursued for the majority of nurses working in local hospitals, clinics, surgery centers, or similar facilities.

However, there are certain times when a new drug test is triggered. Knowing when and why you might be tested will help you be prepared and will give you the opportunity to learn more about your legal rights in this area.

What Triggers a Drug Test?

Drug tests can begin even before you start your first shift as a nurse and may happen at any point throughout your career.

Although a few facilities use random testing to ensure that their patients are as safe as possible at all times, the majority of drug tests for nurses are triggered by specific activities.

1. New Hires

As a nurse, your first drug test will most likely be part of the hiring process.

In addition, you may face subsequent drug tests if you take a new position with a new health care organization or even a new position in your current organization.

You will usually know ahead of time when these tests will take place.

2. Patient Complaints

The majority of other drug tests happen when you least expect them and can be triggered by specific activities on your unit.

For example, a major complaint from a patient that seems to point to working under the influence or a series of similar patient complaints could lead to a random drug test by your employer.

3. Anonymous Reports

Of course, anyone else can make a report about your behavior, triggering a drug test.

For example, coworkers, managers and even patient family members could report suspicious behavior or unsafe actions.

4. Unsafe Incidents

Because patient health, wellness, and safety are of paramount importance to any health care organization, any incident that appears unsafe could trigger a drug test.

Some examples of triggering behaviors include acting erratically, making a myriad of mistakes during your shift, or a major medical mistake that resulted in patient injury.

5. Social Media Posts

Social media plays a huge role in how you are perceived today.

Keep in mind that anything you post on one of your social media accounts should be seen as public information, even if you try to keep your posts limited to friends only.

If you post a picture of yourself using drugs, it could easily get back to your employer, triggering a drug test.

As I have gotten further into my career, I have significantly limited my social media posts to eliminate as much pushback as possible.

6. Facility Policy

In some cases, a drug test may not be triggered by anything that you do but simply by your workplaces’ policies.

For example, depending on state law, your facility may use a computer program to select a certain number of nurses at random for drug tests every month. You could find yourself completing these tests frequently, or you may not have to take one for years.

Drug Testing for Nurses Using Marijuana Recreationally

One of the biggest questions that many nurses have nowadays is whether they can use marijuana recreationally.

While well over 30 states have now legalized marijuana, that does not mean that your facility will smile on your usage of it. You could still find yourself in legal hot water if marijuana shows up in a drug test.

In fact, some nurses have been fired for this behavior. If this happens to you, you will want to consult with an attorney who can help you navigate these tricky situations.

Pro Tip

As the use of marijuana whether it be medical marijuana or recreational, you need to keep in mind that it’s not legal everywhere and there are potential consequences for that.

For example, you might use it in a state that it’s legal but then get a drug screen in another state where it’s illegal.

Also, just because the state you live in allows it doesn’t mean the facility you work in is okay with it (this is especially true for federal employees not to mention a nursing student).

Drug Testing for Military Nurses

If you’re a military nurse, you may be faced with more frequent drug testing simply because of the stringent rules in place from the federal government.

Drug Testing for Student Nurses

For many, drug testing starts long before their first jobs. Most nursing schools now require a drug test prior to admittance to a nursing program.

How is a Drug Test Performed?

paperwork and cup for drug test

I’ve had very few random drug tests in my career but the way I remember my drug test being performed is through a urine test.

I went into a restroom where the water has been turned off and the toilet has been dyed a bright color.

I urinated into the cup and then brought the cup back to the person administering the test.

The cup was sealed and I remember having to watch them seal it and then signing to show that no one has tampered with it.

The test was then sent off to an outside lab and I never heard back anything from them. I vaguely remember one time asking them how come I haven’t heard anything back.

I knew I wasn’t going to test positive but it’s honestly kind of a nerve-racking thing to be randomly called in for a drug screening.

They told me I wouldn’t normally hear back from them unless I had a positive drug screen.

Why Am I Telling You This Story?

I tell you this story to let you know that if you get called in for a random drug screen that you’ll probably be nervous. Assuming you haven’t actually been doing drugs you don’t really have much to worry about.

Lastly, even though they should contact you to let you know everything checked out you may not actually hear back from your employer if you don’t test positive (I think this would be different if it’s a pre-employment drug testing).

If you’re looking for more information about drug tests, random testing, and how drug testing is usually performed especially as it pertains to nursing school, check out this video below.

Why Is Drug Testing Important?

Although drug testing may seem like a huge inconvenience for a nurse, it is done for two major reasons.

The first is patient safety. Drugs can significantly reduce your ability to care for your patients and think on your feet.

Second, most nurses have easy access to a wide range of hard-hitting drugs. It is important that the health care facility hold nurses accountable for their actions.

Unfortunately, I have seen first-hand how this temptation became too great for one individual with whom I worked. Sadly, it cost him his job and it might have cost him his professional license.

Final Thoughts

Drug testing for nurses may sound scary, but there is nothing to worry about as long as you are following state laws and facility-wide policies.

Have you ever experienced random drug tests at your workplace? Comment below with your stories.

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Frequently Asked Questions

  1. Can a nurse refuse a drug test?

    Yes, you can refuse a drug test but keep in mind that refusal can lead to termination and being reported to your respective board of nursing. Depending on your state’s Nurse Practice Act the consequences can vary.

  2. Do you get drug tested in the medical field?

    Many medical professionals will get an initial drug screen when they’re hired by a facility. Afterwards they may get screened either randomly or because of various other factors. Drug screening after hire is not typically common.