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What are the 3 main causes for disciplinary action against a nurse?

A board of nursing may initiate an investigation after a complaint or when they otherwise believe that a nurse is in violation of nursing laws or otherwise a danger to their patients. Although the exact terminology used will vary depending on the state, the three broad categories that result in the most frequent disciplinary actions by a board against a nurse include:

  • Misconduct or unprofessional conduct. This is a broad term that can extend to include actions both within and outside of clinical areas. Examples can include dishonesty when getting one’s nursing license, practicing outside one’s scope, provision of negligent or incompetent care, moral character lapses as well as drug use and privacy violations.
  • Substance abuse. A nursing board is likely to take allegations of substance abuse seriously and initiate an investigation because such use can impair their ability to safely care for their patients.
  • Criminal convictions. Drunk driving, fraud and other criminal convictions can also result in disciplinary action. It is important to note that the board may consider the term “conviction” to include more than an official conviction, it can also include plea deals and other arrangements with the court.

A fourth common cause for disciplinary measures is reciprocal discipline. To put it simply, a disciplinary measure by a nursing board in one state can extend to others.

What types of disciplinary measures will the board use against nurses?

The exact discipline will vary depending on the details, but can include a citation, cease, and desist order, warning, required completion of additional education, fine, referral to a discipline program, probations, monitoring, suspension or even the revocation of one’s nursing license.

Nursing boards are required to follow certain protocol when making these decisions, much like our court systems and enforcement officers. Nurses can also challenge the board’s findings. A successful challenge can occur if the nurse can establish that the board exceeded its authority or made an error of law. A nurse could also build a successful case if they can prove the board issued a decision without substantial evidence.

Nurses in this situation do not have to go through the process alone. Legal counsel can provide guidance and help protect the nurse’s rights throughout the process.

Attorney John Rivas is responsible for this communication