In 2006, the legislature directed the Department of Health (DOH) to adopt rules about mandatory reporting of health care practitioners who commit unprofessional conduct, or unable to practice safely. Part of this new regulatory scheme is the requirement to self-report even if there has been no criminal conviction as the new rules require disclosure of pending actions triggered by an arrest. A DUI arrest falls into this rule of disclosure.
The DOH adopted these rules on March 31, 2008 and they cover all practitioners that are regulated under the umbrella of the department secretary, a board, or a commission. Nurses fall under this criteria and the rules can be found in WAC 246-16. Subsequently, in 2008 the WAC was amended the section pertaining to Mandatory Reporting of conduct and it is this change that requires the disclosure of charges and arrests.
While I encourage all inquires to be directed directly to Washington State Department of Health, 30 Israel RD SE, Olympia WA, 98501-7860, or call 360-236-4700, there is some information that can help a nurse rest a little easier. Any active nurse, or student nurse enrolled in a program dedicated to achieving nursing licensing, should know that a single DUI conviction is not a bar to licensing. Upon my consulting with the Nursing department licensing specialist the department has a somewhat humanistic approach to licensing and recognizes that one mistake in the form of a criminal charge or conviction for DUI does not accurately reflect the applicant, nor does it define their ability to practice health care. While they appreciate the fact that many DUI charges ultimately result in lesser charges, the applicant MUST disclose the original DUI charge as well as the ultimate result stemming from the charge. Any period probation, also does not bar an applicant. The disclosure of charge and final result is necessary to assess the applicants honesty, which is a criteria for licensing, so omitting the original charge and only disclosing the end result will do more harm than good.
While a single DUI charge is unlikely to have a detrimental licensing consequences, multiple charges will almost certainly bar licensing but the time between the charges is a factor worthy of much consideration. The closer the two charges are in time, the more likely the licensing department is to find that that applicant likely is a substance (alcohol) abuser, or perhaps dependent and given the fact that nurses judgment must be sound, as well as their access to potent medications, a practicing nurse, or potential nurse applicant will need to demonstrate that they do pose no danger. Obviously, someone who abuses, or is dependent upon addictive substances will have more difficulty overcoming this hurdle than someone who has only been arrested 1 time in their life.
Consequently, a single DUI conviction, or conviction for a lesser charge is unlikely to act a bar to either the admission to the Nursing field, nor is it likely to terminate an active nurse. However, since every case is different, readers are encouraged to use the address and phone number given above.