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Can I be an RN with a DUI?

by Nurse Beth Nurse Beth, MSN (Columnist) Educator Columnist Innovator Expert Nurse

Specializes in Med Surg, Tele, ICU, Ortho. Has 30 years experience.

Hi Nurse Beth, love your work.

I'm a pre-nursing student who is currently working through the last of my pre-reqs, a new CNA, and active volunteer for Hospice patients as well as a trained active listening volunteer for an emotional support service.

I have a BS in Finance (3.7 GPA) and an MBA degree (4.0 GPA) and making a career change to pursue more meaningful work in nursing through the ELM program.

Embarrassingly, I had a DUI 10 years ago in CA (2010) - a convicted misdemeanor, with no further incidents since. The BRN Enforcement sent me literature on the new law (AB 2138) that this shouldn't impede on me receiving my license. However, it's come to my attention that nursing schools may not allow you to proceed to clinicals with a DUI when you receive a background check at that point. Even more heart-breaking is no one will give me a straight answer on whether I should even try to keep going. I know I'm going to be a great nurse, I would just hate to invest the time and money I've worked so hard to put together and hit a road block if this just isn't going to happen. I fully understand you aren't able to make that decision on a school's behalf, but would more than appreciate any advice or insight you could provide from your experience. Thank you so much for your time."

Dear Worked Hard,

Thank you for your kind words.

You're right, and you've found out there's no guarantees, but there are plenty of RNs with legal issues in their past.

Yours was 10 years ago, and it was a misdemeanor. There are 2 hurdles ahead for you. The first is nursing school. The school application may ask if you've ever had a conviction, or may ask only if you've had a felony. Either way, answer only what you're asked, and be truthful. It is not true that you will be rejected out of hand because of a DUI 10 years ago that resulted in a misdemeanor.

Your next challenge is at the end of your nursing program, when the school submits an application for you to sit for your nursing boards- the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX). At this point, the BON (or BRN) conducts an FBI level investigation which is deeper than nursing school or employer background checks. The BON has a duty to protect the public.

There is no guarantee that you'll be given approval to test after you graduate. Every case is evaluated on an individual level. The BON will ask the school to weigh in on your character. The BON will typically ask for a Letter of Explanation. They look for remorse, rehabilitation and responsibility.

So understand that a school may accept you, but that doesn't automatically convey BON approval to test. The reason is that the FBI level background check cannot be conducted on every potential nursing student- just on successful graduates.

I think you should go for it. Be sure and read

Best wishes,

Nurse Beth

Hoosier_RN, MSN

Specializes in dialysis. Has 28 years experience.

Some will tell you to contact the BON. They will only tell you that they will eval after successful completion of a nursing program. I think that's a raw deal to go to school, spend the money and be rejected at the last. Unfortunately, the board hold the cards


Has 7 years experience.

I knew someone while I was in nursing school and she was a great student. All of a sudden she stopped attending class. When we inquired, we found out that she had a DUI which she didn't disclose on her application. The school told her they could not allow her to continue and that the state wouldn't allow her to sit the exam.