Every state requires nurses to hold professional licenses before they can practice and interact with patients. While eligibility standards vary by state, each state's board of nursing holds the right to take disciplinary action against licensed nurses. In some cases, this applies to cases with a state's CPS, or child protective services, department.
Boards of Nursing
Every state has a board or nursing to oversee licensure, training and discipline against nurses who work in the state. In most cases, when a nurse behaves inappropriately or causes an incident that harms a patient or puts a patient at unnecessary risk, the patient, patient's family or a supervisor files a complaint with the state board of nursing. This may mean a temporary license suspension while the board conducts an investigation of the incident.
Complaints or investigations through a state's department of child protective services may or may not affect a nurse's license. CPS complaints deal directly with child abuse or neglect and can refer to a nurse's actions on the job with young patients or outside the workplace. State CPS agencies report incidents to other departments once they determine them to be potentially valid. Once the CPS transfers a complaint to the board of nursing, the board can take any of its standard disciplinary procedures, including a license suspension.
State nursing boards use professional conduct policies to hold the nurses they oversee to high, and sometimes subjective, standards. This means that the board can take disciplinary action against a nurse for infractions or indiscretions committed outside the workplace. For example, if a neighbor files a CPS complaint against a nurse who fails to supervise his children at home or in public, the board of nursing can take action regardless of how the CPS deals with the complaint. Even if the CPS fails to file criminal or civil charges, the board of nursing can still cite unprofessional conduct as a reason for license suspension or other discipline.
Each case of a nurse involved in a CPS case affects the nurse's license differently. In cases of minor infractions, the board of nursing can suspend a nurse's license for a matter of months, allowing the nurse to apply for reinstatement and go back to work in the future. More extreme cases can result in jail time and fines, administered by the CPS, and long-term license loss from the board or nursing. If a nurse's CPS case goes to court, the judge may also order the nurse's license revoked. In any case, a nurse without a valid license can't work in the field, which makes the outcome a financial penalty as well as a professional one.