Along with doctors, attorneys, dentists, veterinarians, and other professionals, all states require anyone wishing to be a nurse to first obtain a state license. If you engage in nursing without that license, you commit the crime of practicing nursing without a license. There are slight differences in how states punish practicing nursing without a license, though they all cover the same general type of conduct. Some states punish practicing nursing without a license under the broader category of practicing medicine without a license, while other states may have specific laws that apply to nursing.
State laws differ slightly on what it means to practice nursing, though they involve the same type of activity. Nursing involves diagnosing patients, treating health problems, providing medical care, offering medical or health teaching and counseling, performing medical procedures or regimens as prescribed by a physician, as well as providing supportive or restorative medical care. These definitions apply to all nurses, including registered nurses, licensed nurse practitioners, and any other type of nursing a state recognizes.
The crime of practicing nursing without a license also applies to someone who obtains a license under false pretenses. For example, if you want to practice nursing and apply for your state license, you have to provide the state authorities with accurate and truthful information. If you conceal evidence of prior criminal conduct or forge your educational credentials, you be convicted of this crime once the falsehood is discovered. Even if the state initially misses the falsehood and grants your license anyway, you can later be convicted of practicing without a license.
All states require nurses and other healthcare professionals to keep their licenses active if they wish to act as healthcare workers. If you fail to do this, for example by failing to pay the yearly registration fee or failing to participate in required ongoing education, your nursing license may be suspended or inactivated. If you continue to work as a nurse during the suspension or inactivation period, this too constitutes practicing nursing without a license.
Some states have laws that provide for enhanced penalties in some situations where a person practices nursing without a license. The crime is often charged as a misdemeanor offense, but states with enhanced penalty provisions allow for felony charges if a person has committed prior acts of practicing nursing without a license, or if the actions resulted in a person suffering financial, physical, or psychological harm.
The crime of practicing nursing without a license is usually a misdemeanor, though felony charges are possible in some states. What differentiates a felony from a misdemeanor will differ depending on state law, but misdemeanor offenses involve less serious penalties than felony offenses.
The consequences of being convicted of the crime of practicing nursing without a license are very serious. Not only will being convicted of this crime potentially land you in prison and result in significant fines, but your ability to make a living as a nurse will be seriously hindered if not made impossible. If you're being investigated for this crime or have already been charged, you need to seek out a criminal defense attorney near you. Local attorneys will be able to provide you with legal advice in light of their experience with local prosecutors, criminal courts, and the relevant state laws. The longer you delay in seeking legal advice the more potential harm you could do to your case. You need to speak to a local criminal defense attorney as soon as possible in order to protect your rights.