Pursuing a Nursing Career in California with a Criminal Record

By Olga Sattarova

Nursing care in California hospitals has reached a critical shortage. By the year 2010, California hospitals will need an additional 43,000 registered nurses, and an additional 74,000 by the year 2020. The State of California needs and wants more nurses.

Many potential nurses are discouraged from entering the profession due to a misconception that, because of a past criminal incident, they will automatically be turned away. Criminal convictions can affect an individual during the licensure or certification application process and may affect an individual’s employment options after the licensure. However, only the California Board of Registered Nursing and the Board of Vocational Nursing. (hereinafter referred to as “the Board”) is able to give exact answers after careful examination of the applicant’s application.

How a Criminal Record Can Affect your Ability to Obtain a Nursing License

In California, individuals wishing to enter the nursing profession must successfully complete an accredited educational program. Upon successful completion of their education, applicants must take the National Council Licensure Examination, complete an Application for Licensure by Examination, submit one set of fingerprints, provide a passport photo, and present any and all documents and/or letters explaining prior convictions or disciplinary action. This last requirement often alarms applicants with criminal histories. Applicants feel both embarrassed and frightened at the unpleasant idea of not being able to practice under a license they have worked so hard to obtain. More often than not, such worry is premature.

The Board considers each application on a case-by-case basis. The application process is lengthy and tedious. Do not be alarmed at the time it takes the Board to review your application.

What you can do to Pass the Nursing Background Check

According to attorney Mary Work, who specializes in helping people obtain state licenses, it is “essential” to have your record cleared to the fullest extent possible before applying. You can petition the court to seal the record of arrests that did not lead to a conviction. Once sealed, the ugly mark caused by an arrest will be off of your record. If you had a conviction, you may be eligible to have the conviction expunged. While you still need to disclose the conviction to the Board, saying you “had a conviction that is now considered dismissed” sounds much better than saying you “have a conviction.”

If you had a conviction that involved state prison time and it has been more than seven years since you were released from prison, you may be eligible to apply for a certificate of rehabilitation from the court. This certificate, which is a strong, positive statement about you from the court, could prove persuasive to the Board.

The Board reviews applicants’ criminal records to determine if the violation is related to the qualifications of a licensee. There are no criminal convictions that are an absolute bar to nursing licensure. The Board may deny an applicant for any felony or for any misdemeanor convictions that are substantially related to the qualifications, functions or duties of a licensee. Crimes that the Board considers to be related to the qualifications of a license can be found at The Board of Vocational Nursing and Psychiatric Technicians’ web site and include, but are not limited to; procuring a license by fraud, misrepresentation or mistake; a conviction of practicing medicine without a license; conviction of a crime involving fiscal dishonesty, etc.

"The Board may deny an applicant for any felony or for any misdemeanor convictions that are substantially related to the qualifications, functions or duties of a licensee"

As an applicant, you should present the Board with as much detailed and truthful information as possible. You must report: (1) traffic ticket(s) that resulted in a fine of over $500.00; (2) conviction(s) that have been expunged (i.e., a conviction that was stricken or deleted from official records); (3) all misdemeanors, felonies and/or convictions that resulted in nolo contender pleas; (4) convictions that occurred prior to the age of 18; and (5) military convictions or dishonorable discharge.

If the Board determines that an applicant has been rehabilitated, he/she will be admitted to practice. To determine whether the applicant has been satisfactorily rehabilitated, the Board will examine the nature and severity of the act(s) or crime(s), evidence of any act(s) committed subsequent to the act(s) or crime(s), the time that has elapsed since commission of the act(s) or crime(s), the extent to which the applicant has complied with any terms of parole, probation, restitution, or any other sanctions lawfully imposed, and evidence of rehabilitation.

Continue to part 2

Olga Sattarova holds a juris doctor from the University of Utah's S.J. Quinney College of Law. Mathew Higbee Esq. contributed to this article.