Steps of the Nurse Disciplinary Process

It is a frightening experience to receive a letter from the Nursing Board about a possible disciplinary action.  A nurse may be aware that a complaint is possible, but others are taken completely by surprise.  Whatever your specific situation, it can helpful to know what will happen during the disciplinary process.  My law firm handles nurse license defense in Louisiana and Mississippi, and these are the steps of the disciplinary process for the Louisiana State Board of Nursing and the Mississippi Board of Nursing:

A Complaint is Filed with the Nursing Board

Complaints of professional misconduct can be filed from a variety of people, including a patient or someone related to the patient, a fellow co-worker, your boss, a former friend or spouse, the police, or another government agency.  Since anyone can file a complaint, the executive staff of the nursing board must first evaluate the complaint to see if it needs to be investigated. The decision to accept a complaint is dependent on the alleged violation.  Public safety is the overriding concern, so a complaint regarding conduct that could potentially expose patients to danger – such as drug use — will likely be investigated.  But if the complaint is about a nurse getting a DUI or some other infraction not directly linked to patient care, the board may decide to wait and see before starting an investigation.

Hiring a Nursing Attorney

Once the board of nursing staff has made a decision, the board will send the nurse a letter detailing the complaint and explaining whether or not it will investigate the claim. The staff of the board will want a response, either written or verbal.  If you are being investigated, you should hire a professional license defense attorney at this point.  It is much better not to make a statement until you have discussed the situation with your attorney.  You and your lawyer will send a letter to the board saying that you have hired an attorney to represent you. From that point on, your nursing lawyer will be your official mouthpiece with the board.  Do not have contact with the board without your lawyer present — your license may depend on it.

Investigation of the Complaint

During the investigation process, the nurse will be asked for their side of the story.  This is commonly a letter written by the nurse explaining what happened, which is then submitted to the board.  Evidence to support the nurse’s position is also submitted at this time, and it is important to gather as much supportive evidence as you can.  Evidence can include statements from witnesses, medical records, positive job evaluations, and anything that will help the board understand your side of the story.

At the end of the investigation, the board will make a decision to either dismiss the complaint or to formally discipline the nurse. If it is not likely that the charge will be dismissed, it is sometimes possible to negotiate an agreement with the board before they decide to make a formal charge. In general, it is far better to resolve the matter when it is in the preliminary investigative phase, before any charges are filed.

Full Hearing and Possible Disciplinary Action

If the executive staff at the Board of Nursing decides to seek formal charges, you and your attorney may have to appear in front of the Nursing Board.  This is the time to aggressively fight to defend your license and it is important to hire an attorney experienced with nursing license hearings. We routinely represent nurses at disciplinary hearings in front of the Louisiana and Mississippi Nursing Boards, and if you would like more information about what happens at a hearing, please see our blog post Protecting Your Nursing License at a Revocation Hearing.

The executive staff may offer you a consent order or a compromise in lieu of a formal hearing in front of the Board. It is at this point where your attorney can negotiate for a more favorable compromise.  For example, your lawyer could negotiate for a shorter probation period or less severe restrictions. However, if the staff cannot make a reasonable offer, your attorney can refuse the proposed consent order and take the issue to the Board. And if the hearing produces an undesirable outcome, you have one last recourse – to proceed to district court to have the Board’s decision reversed.

The key here is to limit your damages if formal charges are filed.  Hiring an experienced professional licensure attorney can help you get the best possible results whether it is dismissal of the complaint, compromise, a hearing in front of the Board, or a hearing in front of a district judge.  If you are a nurse facing a complaint, investigation or possible disciplinary action from the Board of nursing in Louisiana or Mississippi, you may call my law firm for a free initial consultation.