What You May Not Know About Nurse Licensure

This month’s Legal Clinic installment in AJN is called “Common Misconceptions About Nurse Licensure.” Author Edie Brous, a nurse and attorney, lists these misconceptions:

  • 1. Nursing boards are nursing advocates. Not so, says Brous; they’re there to protect the public. “Because nurses care for vulnerable populations, the state that issues a nursing license has a social contract with the public to ensure that the licensee is qualified, competent, and ethical.”
  • 2. Private Conduct Isn’t Relevant to One’s Performance in a Professional Capacity. In fact, it can matter to a nursing board. The reasoning: “Conduct that reflects questionable judgment, impairment, or lapses in moral character may suggest to the board that a nurse poses a potential threat to the health, safety, and welfare of the public.” Ever neglect payment of student loans, child support, or taxes; have a substance abuse problem; commit a crime? It might be relevant.
  • 3. Disciplinary action taken by a state pertains only to that state. Not so: there’s a computerized system called Nursys (Nurse System) where nursing boards enter actions they take against a nurse and learn about actions taken elsewhere.
  • 4. Licensure is a right. “Rights are entitlements that are considered inherent and inalienable so they cannot be revoked, but privileges are granted by the state and are therefore conditional. As such, a nursing license may be restricted or revoked upon determination that the license holder poses a risk to the public.”

The article goes into more detail on these misconceptions and offers useful tables comparing differences among states in terms of licensure, mandatory reporting, and the roles of boards of nursing. Read the article. Get the facts. Let us know your experience.—Jacob Molyneux, senior editor

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Related posts on boards of nursing and their role:

“The Case of Amanda Trujillo”

“Boards of Nursing and the Amanda Trujillo Case”

“State Boards of Nursing: Can They Protect the Public from Unsafe Nurses?”

“Buyer Beware: Most Online Nursing Schools Are Reputable, but How Do you Know?”

“Criminal Nurses: Who’s Looking Out for the Public’s Safety?”

Senior editor/social media strategy, American Journal of Nursing, and editor of AJN Off the Charts.


  1. worldnursingjobs October 29, 2012 at 4:42 am

    Thank you much Jacob for this wonderful post!

  2. Lois Roelofs October 24, 2012 at 10:29 am

    Thanks, Jacob and Edie. Indeed, this is the ambiguity I found. I will have to dig into this further. Lois

  3. jm October 24, 2012 at 9:56 am

    Lois, I heard back from Edie Brous, and will paste her response in below, in case you find it helpful. –Jacob

    Edie Brous writes:

    I don’t practice in Illinois and would refer the reader to the Illinois BON to get their opinion because that’s whose opinion matters anyway. From my reading of the Illinois NPA, however, I would not use the title ”RN” unless my license was active or the BON said it was ok. If the license is lapsed from non-renewal, then the nurse is not currently registered so using that title could be a problem. The statute is ambiguous because at one point it says a person can’t use the title unless he or she IS licensed. In another part it says a person can’t use the title unless he or she HAS BEEN licensed. Because it is subject to different interpretations, I’d get clarification by calling or writing the board before using the title or letters RN.

    Here is what it says, in part:

    “Registered Nurse” or “Registered Professional Nurse” means a person who is licensed as a professional nurse under this Act and practices nursing as defined in this Act. Only a registered nurse licensed under this Act is entitled to use the titles “registered nurse” and “registered professional nurse” and the abbreviation, “R.N.”.

    (225 ILCS 65/50-15) (was 225 ILCS 65/5-15)
    (Section scheduled to be repealed on January 1, 2018)
    Sec. 50-15. Policy; application of Act.
    (a) For the protection of life and the promotion of health, and the prevention of illness and communicable diseases, any person practicing or offering to practice advanced, professional, or practical nursing in Illinois shall submit evidence that he or she is qualified to practice, and shall be licensed as provided under this Act. No person shall practice or offer to practice advanced, professional, or practical nursing in Illinois or use any title, sign, card or device to indicate that such a person is practicing professional or practical nursing unless such person has been licensed under the provisions of this Act.

    (225 ILCS 65/50-20) (was 225 ILCS 65/5-20)
    (Section scheduled to be repealed on January 1, 2018)
    Sec. 50-20. Unlicensed practice; violation; civil penalty.
    (a) Any person who practices, offers to practice, attempts to practice, or holds oneself out to practice nursing without being licensed under this Act shall, in addition to any other penalty provided by law, pay a civil penalty to the Department in an amount not to exceed $10,000 for each offense as determined by the Department. The civil penalty shall be assessed by the Department after a hearing is held in accordance with the provisions set forth in this Act regarding the provision of a hearing for the discipline of a licensee.
    (b) The Department has the authority and power to investigate any and all unlicensed activity.
    (c) The civil penalty shall be paid within 60 days after the effective date of the order imposing the civil penalty. The order shall constitute a judgment and may be filed and execution had thereon in the same manner as any judgment from any court of record.
    (Source: P.A. 95-639, eff. 10-5-07.)

  4. Lois Roelofs October 23, 2012 at 9:55 am

    Thanks, Jacob. Lois

  5. Stella October 23, 2012 at 1:24 am

    Thank you for this, But I have a question, I’m a fresh licensed nursing graduate from Philippines and applied a nursing job in a private hospital here in Canada but got denied, they said that they are not hiring nurses from Phil because they are saying the training I took are not good enough and didn’t meet their standards. I was devastated by these, should I again apply for another nursing license here in Canada so I could pass their nursing standard? Please help…

  6. jm October 22, 2012 at 5:26 pm

    Hi Lois, We forwarded your question to Edie Brous, who wrote the article we were summarizing in this post. Will let you know if she has any thoughts!

  7. Lois Roelofs October 21, 2012 at 1:53 pm

    Thanks. There’s nothing on our state’s website, so I may have to track someone down in person.

  8. […] has a summary of misconceptions about state nursing boards.  You need to read this if you’re a […]

  9. jm October 19, 2012 at 1:41 pm

    Good question. Regulations vary from state to state, so it’s best to check with your state board of nursing on this one. Sorry we can’t be more specific. Hope you get the answer you’re hoping for!

  10. Lois Roelofs October 19, 2012 at 12:31 pm

    Thank you for this clarification. This brings to mind a question I’ve had as a retiree. If our RN represents our licensure by the state, can we legally use the RN afer our name after we let our license lapse, when we write or present publicly? I know one state that has an “RN (ret)” certificate they offer their retirees. I’m from IL and as far as I’ve been able to find out, we don’t do this here, so I have gone on inactive status just to still be able to legally put RN behind my name. I want to be legal! Thanks for any input.

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