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I was fired from my job and am being prosecuted for a felony. Will I ever be able to work as a nurse again?

Wednesday May 23, 2012
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Dear Nancy,

I have worked at the same hospital for 27 years and for the past 20 I was a nursing supervisor. I have won many awards, including just recently a Lifesaving Partners award. However, for the past few years I have led a double life nurse supervisor and compulsive gambler. I stole items from the hospital and sold them in order to feed my addiction. Gambling addiction is one of the most baffling and misunderstood addictions. A month ago, when my egregious acts were discovered, I was fired. I have been in aggressive treatment since, attending meetings weekly. I am in legal trouble as well, being prosecuted for a felony. I know I should pay the price. However, I believe if I had a substance abuse problem, I would still have a job and be allowed to recover and seek treatment. For many years, I was an ICU nurse also and literally saved lives. However, now I am facing almost insurmountable legal and financial difficulties. I'm not sure if I ever can work as a nurse again, as I will be a convicted felon and may lose my license. I have lost so much due to this addiction.

Why isn't my addiction viewed the same as a nurse who injects herself with a drug meant for a patient? He or she is given a chance to make amends and remain employed. I fortunately have received probation, and in a way am grateful for hitting rock bottom. Should I make my case for maintaining my license prior to the hospital reporting this? Do you have any advice for me in facing potential employers? Do I tell them and provide proof that I am in treatment?


Nancy Brent replies:

Dear Noah,

You are to be commended for getting yourself into treatment for your addiction. As you have stated, even with the acknowledgement of your addiction and successful treatment, there are ramifications to what went on before you accepted your illness and sought treatment for it.

One ramification is, of course, the effect of your past conduct on future hiring. Despite the fact that you think it may be impossible to be hired again, many in your shoes, albeit with different addictions (e.g., alcohol, controlled substances) are hired and can lead productive and healthy lives. In fact, the Americans with Disabilities Act and its amendments protect you from discrimination solely on the basis of your addiction.

How you handle the issue with future employers is something you need to review carefully with your attorney and your treatment team. Also, due to the potential for a criminal conviction, it is imperative that an honest discussion take place about how to handle this with future employers as well.

Moreover, based on your state nurse practice act and its rules, there may be hurdles to overcome in maintaining your license. You mentioned you received probation. Was the probation granted at the hospital or in a hearing before the nursing board? If you received probation from the board, this is a positive result, but it will still affect your job search, especially if there were clinical restrictions placed on you in addition to the probation (e.g., not working nights, not taking a supervisory position).

At this point, your attorney along with your treatment team, are your best choices for shaping the future to your advantage.


Nancy J. Brent, RN, MS, JD, is an attorney in private practice in Wilmette, Ill. This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as legal or any other advice. The reader is encouraged to seek the advice of an attorney or other professional when an opinion is needed.