Can A Felon Become A Nurse?

One of the exceedingly few upsides of incarceration is healthcare. Many former inmates can attest to the excellent healthcare the received while in prison.

Some doctors and nurses in these facilities can be jaded. However, many are often a great source of solace and care for those imprisoned. For many inmates, getting a gig to assist in this area is often desirable.

Can A Felon Become A Nurse

This positive experience with healthcare has led to many asking: Can a felon become a nurse?

The short answer is yes. This does not mean you will be on an even playing field with non-felons. Certain conditions will apply and even then there are no guarantees.

Why Employment Is a Challenge for Felons

Upon release, felons will often find that their career options have become severely restricted. There are many professional jobs they can never aspire to. Often because of the ethical standards that they cannot meet.

Even lower-level jobs can be hard to come by because of discriminating employers. Many will question criminal history and carry out background checks. They often give priority to job applicants without criminal records.

Given the high rate of unemployment, it comes as no surprise that recidivism is high. In some states, as much as 50% of ex-cons are re-incarcerated within 3 years of release.

A career in healthcare is an aspiration many felons have had. These jobs offer many career growth opportunities. There is also much demand for such professionals, meaning more flexibility in choice.

Can A Felon Become A Nurse Challenge

The salaries and benefits are also great. Being a felon often means having your reputation tarnished. A career in healthcare is considered noble and can redeem standing.

For those still wondering can a felon become a nurse the answer depends. Many states do not outrightly bar felons from pursuing these careers. They leave it to the state licensing boards to make that decision.

These boards will often consider various factors. This can include the severity of the offense and how long since release. Many will not consider felons on the sex offenders’ registry.

However, even before you get to this stage, there is the training required. Getting admitted to a nursing program is not always easy. With a criminal background, it becomes more complicated.

Just as with any other career, you will need to be honest. Trying to conceal your past can prove costly if all is later revealed.

Still interested? Then let us go dig deeper into what it will take to become a nurse below.

Guidelines for Becoming a Nurse

Know Where You Stand

A nursing career often requires a big investment in education. Before you start on what will be a costly journey, you need to check some facts. The first step should be to review state law.

Some states prohibit felons from earning certain professional credentials. This can include healthcare licenses.

So can you be a nurse with a record?

This prohibition may be pegged on the particular offense you were convicted of. Offenses such as armed robbery, child abuse, and domestic violence are often listed. Even then, the decision will be left to the state licensing board.

The board will have to determine if it is safe to allow you to become a nurse. This will depend on certain factors. This may include the severity of the offense committed and duration since completing your sentence.

Offenses that involve drugs may also be more concerning due to the nature of the job.

A long period since release without incident can help your case. Evidence of rehabilitation can further reinforce that you have changed. Honesty with your school administration and the licensing board is paramount.

Expunge Your Record

Consult a lawyer or non-profit on whether you can get your record expunged or sealed. The qualifying circumstances vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

In many cases, expungement can be easily done where arrests never led to charges. Or, if the case was dismissed. Background checks can still bring up a record of arrests so be prepared to explain.

You will still need to be honest about your criminal history. However, the board will likely view your case more favorably with an expungement. It demonstrates that a court felt you deserved this relief.

Enroll in a Nursing Program

Can a Felon Become a Nurse StepsThis will largely depend on factors such as tuition fees and location. Choose only accredited programs. The program must match the education needs you require to graduate as a nurse.

It is important to be honest with the school administration about criminal convictions. This may put you in good standing. They can also provide advice on whether you can attain a license.

Know that many nursing schools do carry out background checks. If you fail to disclose your conviction, they can disqualify you. With so many applicants looking to join the field, eliminating a felon is not that difficult.

Apply for A License

Once you have completed your program successfully, you will need a license. The process includes completing a questionnaire and submitting your fingerprint. You will be questioned about criminal convictions and their details.

The fingerprints will be used for conducting a background check. Your criminal record will be sourced from the Department of Justice.

It is a mandatory check so be sure to be truthful in your application. The details will be compared to the results of your background check.

If the state board approves your request, you will then sit the state-mandated exam. Once you pass, you will have earned your license and can get to work.

Now that you know the steps to take, you may be wondering if it is worth it. For these felons, it was.

Case Study

Lisa Creason

At just 19 years of age, Lisa Creason was convicted of attempted robbery in Illinois. She was desperate for money for her baby. Creason walked into a Subway shop and demanded money from the cash register.

She served just one year but gained a felony conviction that would last much longer. It would bar her from attaining any professional certification.

Creason worked hard to clean up her act in subsequent years. She volunteered to talk with at-risk youth. She also started a non-profit to assist kids that lost parents to gun violence.

By 2005, she decided to pursue a nursing career. She earned a nursing assistant certificate and worked at a nursing home.

She later took prerequisite classes to a nursing program. In 2012 she managed to get a spot on a community college nursing program.

Unbeknownst to her, changes in law would affect felons seeking healthcare licenses. In 2011, felons were barred from this professional licensing.

This was a few years after she applied to sit the state-mandated board tests. She was then notified of her ineligibility.

Creason took her battle to Capitol Hill, lobbying for a change in the law. Her efforts paid off. In May 2016, a bill passed allowing felons to acquire healthcare licenses. Certain conditions would apply.

She sat her licensing test the following year and passed on the first try. Now she earns twice as much as a registered nurse. She no longer receives assistance or needs to consider a second job to make ends meet.

Supporting A Felon in Becoming a Nurse

Supporting A Felon in Becoming a NurseFamily support has proven to be effective in reducing the risk of recidivism. Do your research so you have all the facts at hand. Talk to your family about what you want to do.

They can offer financial and emotional support to get through what will be a challenging course.

You will likely have to convince them that this is your true calling. Once they are sure of your sincerity, then they will help boost your efforts.

If your loved one is a felon looking to become a nurse, stand by them. Offering them love and support will do much to reinforce their commitment. Be positive and recognize any achievement scored.


Which agency in California screens applicants for nursing licenses?

The state’s licensing authority is the California Board of Registered Nursing (BRN).  It licenses registered nurses (RN), nurse anesthetists, and midwives. When applying for a nursing license, the BRN carries out background checks into criminal history.

How would the licensing board discover my criminal history?

Applicants are required to submit their fingerprints. These are checked against the FBI and the Department of Justice records. Anyone arrested and/or convicted of a crime will have a rap sheet.

The application will also have a direct question about any criminal arrests and convictions. Applicants are asked to give details of any violations.

Both misdemeanor and felony convictions must be disclosed. You may also be required to give details even if the incidents were expunged.

Does a criminal conviction automatically disqualify me from being an RN?

Absolutely not. You are encouraged to be honest about any criminal convictions.

The BRN would have to prove your crime is ‘substantially related’ with your work. However, evidence of rehabilitation can counter this.

Concealing that you are a felon can however work against you. The BRN considers this giving false information and grounds for disciplinary action.

What crimes or offenses are “substantially related” to a nursing license?

 Can A Felon Become A Nurse FAQThe BRN will be comprehensive in their appraisal of applicants with criminal convictions. They will have to consider the nature and severity of the crime. The duration since completing your sentence and how you have spent it will also be reviewed.

California state law does, however, describe certain offenses as being particularly concerning for nursing careers. These ‘substantially related’ crimes include abuse or assault, theft, dishonesty, fraud, and deceit.

Those that do not comply with mandatory reporting requirements are also highlighted. The same applies to those that are on the sex offender registry.

Can I become a Nurse with a Criminal Conviction?

Yes, but it will depend. Your criminal conviction will still be considered by the school administration and the BRN.

Try to work on proving that you are entitled to this consideration. Expungement can help, especially for crimes not substantially related to the job and misdemeanors.

What disqualifies you from being a nurse?

BRN will consider the entirety of your application and supporting documents when making a decision. Offenses that are ‘substantially related’ may lower your chances but other factors may bolster.

Provide as much documented evidence of your ability. Letters of reference and a certificate of rehabilitation can help. Getting your record expunged should also be tried.

Withholding facts on your criminal conviction can, however, be penalized. The BRN considers this providing false information. It can be grounds to disqualify your application.

How far back do background checks go for nursing?

A standard check goes back seven years. Due to the sensitive nature of the job, the BRN may be entitled to access entire histories. Juvenile convictions may, however, be sealed and not require disclosing.

Obtain a copy of your official rap sheet. This will let you know what the BRN will see when running your background check.


A career in nursing is a noble pursuit. It can help redeem your reputation and make for a solid lifelong career. The most challenging part for a felon is getting into a good nursing program and earning your license.

Honesty is the best policy. Always provide full disclosure as to your convictions. I also aim to make a good impression during interviews.

Do not make excuses for your past. Simply give the details and demonstrate how you have become a better person since.

In life there are no sureties and if you are barred early on, take a step back. Consider if you really stand a shot.

If not, there are other career options you can pursue and become a contributing member of society. Just don’t give up.

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