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A DUI that happened years ago may jeopardize your RN license

The California Board of Registered Nursing is responsible for enforcing the Nursing Practice Act.

The BRN expects nurses to be “professional at all times,” but a 2012 case in which a nurse had a DUI conviction brought conflicting decisions from different courts.

What occurred

First, a nurse who graduated from her nursing program in 2017 was not allowed to sit for her licensing exam because of a DUI she had received 11 years before. There was one condition: She could take the exam if she agreed to a reprimand for the DUI conviction. She did agree, and passed the exam, but her record now reflects a disciplinary action. In a similar 2012 case, Sulla v. Board of Registered Nursing, 205 Cal. App. 1195 (4 District), the Board disciplined a nurse because of his DUI conviction, and his license was on probation for a period of three years. However, the nurse filed for an administrative review of that decision.

What the courts determined

In the 2012 case, the nurse argued that the charge, “demonstrating unfitness to practice the profession,” could not qualify as a reason for disciplinary action because there was no relationship between his DUI conviction and being unfit to practice nursing. The reviewing court sided with the nurse, but an appellate court disagreed, a decision that emphasized the need for a nurse to be “professional at all times.”

What you can expect

As the 2012 case shows, the BRN and other nursing boards across the country have become increasingly concerned about the behavior of registered nurses both on and off the job. A criminal defense attorney experienced with assisting RNs with licensing issues will tell you that a conviction involving alcohol, such as driving under the influence, is a violation of the Nursing Practice Act and could result in the suspension or revocation of your professional license. However, this is not automatic. There are options under the law you can use to save your license and allow you to continue your career.

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