What Happens When You Have a Suspended Nursing License
By Moira K. McGhee, Contributor
The path to nursing licensure is unique for every nurse, but it’s guided by the licensing requirements of the state in which you plan to work. Each state also governs nursing practices through its own set of rules and regulations and Nursing Practice Act (NPA). Violating the NPA or certain rules or regulations could lead to a suspended nursing license.
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Nursing license requirements
The requirements for earning your Registered Nurse license vary by state, but all 50 states use the NCLEX-RN licensing exam with the same standards for passing. Nursing graduates apply to the state licensing agency in the state where they plan to work, not the state in which they currently live.
However, if you live in a state that belongs to the nurse licensure compact and want to work in other compact states, then you apply to your own state board. It’s important you know the rules, regulations and NPAs of your state licensing agency and any agency where you plan to work to ensure you meet licensing requirements and understand what could warrant a suspended nursing license.
Reasons for a suspended nursing license
The annual rate of discipline on nursing licenses is less than 1 percent because most nurses are competent, caring individuals who continuously provide appropriate care according to professional nursing standards. However, when NPA violations occur, the Board of Nursing in the state where the nurse works reviews and acts on complaints as part of their mission to protect the public. After a thorough investigation, if the BON determines there’s sufficient evidence the nurse violated the NPA or other regulations, they may take disciplinary action, which could include a suspended nursing license.
You can lose your nursing license for different reasons in different states, but disciplinary cases are usually grouped into one of these categories:
- Practice related
- Boundary violations
- Sexual misconduct
- Drug related
- Positive criminal background checks
Disciplinary actions available to BONs also vary according to state law, and some actions can affect a nurse’s licensure status and ability to practice. According to the National Council of State Boards of Nursing, BON actions may include:
- Fine or civil penalty
- Public reprimand or censure for minor NPA violation
- Referral to an alternative-to-discipline program for practice monitoring and recovery support
- Imposition of monitoring, remediation, education or other provision tailored to the given situation
- Limitation of one or more aspects of practice, usually probation with set restrictions
- Suspension from practice for a set time period or revocation/voluntary surrender of license
- Various types of educational remediation
- Other state-specific remedies
A state BON also has the authority to take action against a nurse based on another state’s licensure disciplinary action to prevent the nurse from evading discipline by fleeing the state. Because BON disciplinary actions are considered public information, they can list such actions on state databases, newsletters and websites and on Nursys, the national database for verifying nursing licensure, discipline and practice privileges. Federal law also requires state BONs to report disciplinary actions against healthcare professionals’ licenses to the National Practitioner Data Bank.
What happens when you lose your nursing license
Because licensing requirements vary by state, so do the rules for reinstatement of a suspended nursing license. The possibility for reinstatement depends on whether your suspension was a permanent revocation. If it wasn’t, each state’s BON outlines the steps required to petition for reinstatement.
Contact your state’s BON to obtain a list of the exact terms and conditions of your reinstatement, which vary based on your disciplinary offense. You cannot petition for reinstatement until you’ve met all the board’s requirements. One condition may be completion of some form of treatment program, such as treatment for drug or alcohol dependency, anger management or mental illness. Another condition will likely be a waiting period, such as no less than one year from the issuance of your suspension. However, this time period may elapse before you finish your other requirements.
When you petition for reinstatement, each state requires sufficient documentation to prove the basis for your suspension no longer exists. Appropriate documentation varies, but it’s basically written evidence that supports your assertion. Your petition is reviewed, and if it’s determined your case warrants being heard by the Board, they decide whether to reinstate your license.
Employment options with a suspended nursing license
If you have a temporarily suspended nursing license, you cannot legally practice nursing, but that doesn’t mean you can’t work. There are employment options you can seek that utilize your nursing education/skills and don’t require a license.
You have limited options to work in healthcare, but you may be able to work as a nursing assistant, medical assistant or home health aide. Nursing assistants often work in assisted living centers, and medical assistants often work in private practices performing administrative and low-level clinical tasks for busy doctors. Home health aides provide daily living assistance to patients who can no longer handle these tasks on their own. These positions may also include performing housekeeping or other tasks.
While these positions don’t require a nursing license, they typically require a background check that will likely uncover your suspended nursing license. If you lost your license due to patient neglect or abuse, you probably won’t be hired for one of these positions. Unlicensed nurses may also parlay their computer-related skills and familiarity with medical terminology into a job as a medical secretary or medical transcriptionist.
No matter what career path you pursue following a suspended nursing license, the results of a background check could impact your ability to get any job. In some scenarios, you may need to explore employment options outside the medical field.