You’ve worked hard to obtain your nursing license. You’ve completed a nursing program, you’ve potentially even obtained a specialized college degree, and you’ve studied hard to pass those licensure exams. You can go online to a nursing license lookup website and see your name and title right there, in real-time. That license is precious—but you can lose it.
Losing your nursing license can be catastrophic. You need to reapply to reinstate it, though reinstatement isn’t always an option depending on why you lost it in the first place. And while you’re waiting, even if it is eventually reinstated, you’ll need to wait for that to happen—meaning you’ll be out of work during that time.
So, it’s clearly best that you never lose your nursing license to begin with. Wondering, “How can I lose my nursing license?” In this post, we’ll discuss some of the common reasons that cause nurses to lose their licenses annually.
How Many Nurses Lose Their Nursing Licenses Each Year?
While the number of nurses losing their licenses each year does vary, it’s estimated that around 1% of registered nurses (RNs) lose their licenses annually. An additional percentage of nurses may have their licenses suspended, which is a temporary measure that may require specific actions, training, or education in order to be able to practice again.
7 Common Reasons Nurses Lose Their Nursing License
Worried about your career and keep finding yourself thinking, “How can you lose your nursing license?”
There are a number of different offenses that can result in nurses losing their licenses—and the ability to work in nursing. Let’s look at seven of the most common reasons nurses have their licenses terminated.
1. Mistakes in Patient Care
Mistakes in patient care—particularly when they’re either serious or continual mistakes—are an easy way to lose your license. Some of the mistakes that can cost you your license are the following:
- Incorrectly administering or prescribing medication, including using the wrong dosage or administering it to the wrong patient
- Failure in care, including premature ends to treatment or a failure to properly address medical complications in a timely manner
- Errors during the lab or diagnostic testing or during the physical examination
- Errors or omissions in documentation that negatively impact patient care
- Failure to document or complete a thorough patient assessment
2. Failure to Complete Education Requirements
Depending on where you practice, you may need to invest in continued education to keep your license active. Some states don’t require continued education once you already have a license so long as you’re actively working, while others require continued education annually, even if you are working.
Check the nursing continued education requirements by state, and check in with your employer to see what they require. In many cases, your employer may pay for continued education.
3. Crimes Committed Outside of Work
You can be one of the best nurses that ever walked the planet, and you can still lose your job if you’re arrested for crimes committed outside of work. A lot of people ask the question "Will a misdemeanor affect my nursing license?" In short, yes—it can. Driving under the influence (DUI) is a common cause of nurses losing their licenses, so make sure that you’re taking an Uber if you’ve been drinking.
4. You’re Accused of Diversion
Diversion is an extremely serious crime, and it’s a quick way to lose your license permanently if you get caught. It’s the practice of stealing medicine, most often addictive drugs like hydrocodone, fentanyl, or oxymorphone.
Be careful when you’re working with any controlled substances because even sloppy record-keeping can cost you your job if you’re suspected of diversion.
5. Violation of HIPAA
Violating the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) can cost you your license quickly. You must keep all patient information both private and confidential, and any breach of privacy is a serious offense.
6. Practicing beyond the Scope of Your Licensure
Nurses truly are on the front lines of medical care, so they end up learning a great deal about providing care for their patients. With that knowledge, it can be easy to slip into practicing beyond the parameters of their licensure according to the Nurse Practice Act.
In most states, you cannot diagnose a patient as an RN; you must be a nurse practitioner (NP) or another type of advanced practice registered nurse (APRN). Make sure you understand what you can and can’t do within your licensure to protect both your patients and yourself.
7. Professional Misconduct
Professional misconduct is the most common cause of nurses losing their licenses, with a report on Nurse Professional Liability published in 2023 by the CNA and NSO (providers of malpractice insurance for nurses) citing that it accounts for over 27% of license terminations.
Behaviors may include being intoxicated while treating patients, violating boundaries (including accepting valuable gifts from patients), romantic relationships with patients, and failing to behave appropriately at work.
What If My License Is Suspended?
If your license is suspended or even revoked, the good news is that it is possible, in many cases, to get it reinstated. It’s often a lengthy and potentially complex process, but it is possible. Your best bet is to complete any actions outlined by your state nursing board if your license was suspended and to get in touch with a nursing license attorney if your license was terminated.
Want to learn more about advancing your nursing career? Check out our recent blog posts at Nursa!