Earning your nursing degree was difficult enough; obtaining your certification as a Nurse Practitioner (NP) is even more challenging. Not only must you earn a graduate nursing degree and pass a national certification exam for advanced nursing practices, but you must then be licensed as an registered nurse (RN), then take another exam to become certified as a nurse practitioner in the individual state where you wish to practice. That's a lot of time (and money) to invest in a career! And yet, it could be jeopardized in an instant by allegations of misconduct. If your license is investigated and you're found to be in violation of board standards, you not only could lose your nurse practitioner certification but even your license to practice as a nurse!
The good news is that your nursing career doesn't have to be stopped short by an allegation of misconduct. Attorney Joseph D. Lento is an experienced attorney who helps licensed professionals in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and New York whose licenses are being threatened. If you're a nurse practitioner who has been notified of an investigation into your certification or license, the Lento Law Firm has compiled the following critical information to help you prepare for what's ahead.
Which Licensing Board Do I Answer to if My Nurse Practitioner Credentials Are Under Scrutiny?
Nurse practitioners are typically certified and regulated by the state Board of Nursing in your state--the same board that licensed you as an RN. In New Jersey and Pennsylvania, these are the Boards of Nursing for New Jersey and Pennsylvania, respectively. In New York, all nurse licensing is overseen through the Office of the Professions.
What Are Some Common Allegations That Could Jeopardize My Nurse Practitioner Certification?
Each state licensing board has established standards for how nurses and nurse practitioners should conduct themselves and their practices. Most complaints and accusations that jeopardize a nurse practitioner certification have to do with some violation of these standards. Below are some common examples.
- Unprofessional/unethical conduct. Could include anything from patient abuse/neglect to unprofessional behavior on the job to inappropriate romantic/sexual relationships with patients or colleagues.
- Drug/alcohol addiction. Substance abuse can hinder your ability to make clear-headed decisions on the job, especially if you show up for work intoxicated.
- Mishandling of medications. Examples include sloppy documentation of medications, inappropriate prescriptions, diverting medications for personal use, mistakes with prescribing medicines, etc.
- Criminal convictions. Being convicted of certain crimes (e.g., theft, DUI, or drug possession) may disqualify you from being a nurse practitioner.
- Boundary violations with patients. Examples include breaching patient confidentiality or exerting undue influence on a patient.
- Fraud. Examples include falsifying records for insurance purposes, billing insurance for services not provided, practicing outside the scope of your credentials, etc.
How Does My State's Nursing Board Handle a Complaint Against My Credentials?
While specific processes differ from state to state, most state boards follow disciplinary guidelines established by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN). The process generally goes as follows:
- Complaint. Most disciplinary actions start with a complaint filed with the board alleging that you've committed misconduct.
- Investigation. The board launches an investigation to determine whether the complaint has merit. This step may include asking you to provide a written response, subpoenas for documentation, interviews with witnesses, etc.
- Settlement conference/consent order. If the board finds ample evidence to support the complaint, it may offer to resolve the matter through informal talks and a consent order, in which you voluntarily admit to wrongdoing and penalties to avoid a formal hearing and more severe consequences. They may also recommend alternatives to discipline, such as mandatory addiction treatment.
- Formal hearing. If the matter moves to a formal hearing, you'll formally address the complaint against you either before the board itself or before an Administrative Law Judge.
- Board action. The board will make a determination as to what disciplinary actions to take against you--up to and including revoking your nurse practitioner credentials and license.
At numerous points in this process, a good license defense attorney can work with the nursing board to have complaints against you dismissed for lack of evidence or to negotiate for lesser penalties to prevent your license or certification from being forfeited.
Will the Board Automatically Revoke My Credentials if They Decide the Complaint Is Valid?
No. The nursing board can impose other sanctions in lieu of revoking your nurse practitioner certificate or your nursing license as it sees fit. Examples may include suspending your license for a time, restricting certain activities, imposing fines, supervised probation, or simply a formal reprimand. Bear in mind, however, that even these lesser penalties can damage your career because disciplinary actions will appear on your public record where patients and potential employers can view them.
How Can an Attorney Help Me Avoid Losing My Certification?
Your license defense attorney can work closely with you, the board, and its investigators to minimize the damage a complaint can have on your career. A good attorney can:
- Represent you in all matters before the nursing board
- Gather evidence to refute the complaint against you
- Negotiate at numerous points to have evidence of your misconduct excluded from consideration so that the complaint against you is dropped or mitigated
- Negotiate for more lenient sanctions (or no disciplinary action at all)
- Help you get your credentials reinstated if they are suspended or revoked
Being accused of misconduct as a Nurse Practitioner can be devastating to your career because your entire livelihood and professional future hinge upon your credentials. The more serious the complaint, the higher the likelihood that you will lose your certification (and possibly your license) without professional legal help. Attorney Joseph D. Lento has helped many Nurse Practitioners, and other licensed professionals keep their credentials even in complex cases. If your license is in jeopardy in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, or New York, contact the Lento Law Firm at (888) 535-3686 today to discuss your case and your options.