Boards of nursing throughout the country focus on the need for nurses to maintain their professionalism outside of work.
Two different cases illustrate how a nurse can face disciplinary action for a DUI conviction, even if the incident happened in the past.
Nursing board power
In 2012, the California nursing board disciplined a nurse for an “alcohol-related conviction,” meaning a conviction for driving under the influence of alcohol, and placed his professional license on a three-year probation. The board viewed his actions as “unprofessional conduct of a character likely to deceive, defraud or harm the public.” The nurse went to court to protest the decision and the court ruled in his favor. However, the board appealed, and the appellate court ruled against the nurse, giving weight to the board’s view that a licensed nurse must be “professional at all times.”
A unique example
In another case, a nursing board refused to allow a student recently graduated from nursing school to sit for an essential exam unless she agreed to a formal reprimand over a DUI conviction that had taken place 11 years before. This example illustrates the latitude that nursing boards have in matters related to discipline. Most boards rely on broad definitions of “unprofessional conduct” with regard to the behavior a nurse exhibits in his or her private life and, as the example shows, may look into past actions to uncover issues that might affect both personal and professional integrity.
Professional license protection
A successful defense for a nurse charged with DUI begins with a thorough investigation of the circumstances surrounding the arrest. For example, was there probable cause for stopping the driver? Did the breathalyzer malfunction? The defense will not only address the potential for reducing or even dismissing criminal penalties but also the need to report the matter to the Pennsylvania board of nursing. The preservation of a professional license is essential and worth fighting the charges to achieve the best outcome possible.