Will a Past Criminal Offense Stop You from Becoming a Nurse?

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The agency responsible for the licensing of nurses in the State of Illinois, the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR), is finally taking this question to heart.  In short, to answer the question, “Will a past criminal offense stop you from becoming a nurse?” IDFPR says,  ”Not necessarily.” 

In this article, we discuss the recent changes to the Illinois law regarding how a person’s criminal history plays into their eligibility for a nursing license. We also address what you can do if your nursing license was permanently revoked or denied in the past. 

If after reading this article you have more questions about applying for a nursing license, or you are seeking review of a previously rejected nursing license application, I welcome you to reach out to me at 1818 Legal.  Learn more about what my representation can do for you.  Contact me today.  I have the resources and experience to greatly improve your chances of obtaining and maintaining a nursing license.

It All Began with “Ban the Box”

For all its virtues, the United States has one rather unpleasant distinction – we incarcerate more of our citizens than any other country in the world.  Born of the “tough on crime” policies of the 1980s and 90s, the U.S. now has many Americans with criminal records and difficulties finding a good job because of those records.

This reality led to a nationwide effort called “Ban the Box.”.  The Ban the Box movement called for laws prohibiting employers from asking applicants about their criminal records early in the hiring process.  The objective was to ensure that a person’s criminal history did not immediately remove him or her from consideration before even getting to a job interview, as many times past arrests or convictions are wholly irrelevant to whether someone is currently qualified.  Illinois and dozens of other states and cities have enacted “ban the box” laws to improve the job prospects of those with criminal records.

This “ban the box” movement served as a precursor to Illinois’ more recent changes to the way professional license applications are reviewed for applicants who have a criminal conviction in their past.

The Change in How a Criminal Record Impacts a Nursing License

Prior to 2017, it was very difficult to obtain a nursing license in Illinois if you had a criminal record.  Not only did offenses involving violent crimes lead to you being deemed “unfit for licensure,” but it was also very difficult to obtain a license if you committed any drug offense or any crime involving dishonesty.  Indeed, many otherwise eligible candidates were permanently barred from a nursing career if they fell under that wide net.  The state legislature, however, modified that approach in January 2017.

The new Nurse Practices Act of 2017 provided many more restrictions on how an applicant’s criminal history could factor for licensure.  Further, it enhanced the process allowing for those with revoked licenses to be reinstated, and those with denied licenses to seek reconsideration. 

Thus, people with a revoked nursing license or who were permanently denied a license because of a criminal offense may now qualify under the Nurse Practice Act to have their licenses restored or reconsidered.

To qualify for review of your permanent revocation or denial, you must have been denied licensure because of a felony in your past. The conviction must be more than 5 years prior, or you must have been released from confinement more than three years ago.

Drug possession and DUIs can be felonies, depending on the circumstances and charges.  Certain criminal offenses may not allow you to seek review of your license including:

  • Felonies requiring registration under the Sex Offender Registration Act.
  • Involuntary sexual servitude of a minor that is a forcible felony.
  • Criminal battery against any patient in the course of patient care or treatment.

With regard to first-time applicants for a nursing license, the same standards above apply.  The process is only different in that you first submit an application along with any required fees.  Then, your criminal history is reviewed in the same way as those who have previously had a license revoked or denied. 

Recent Changes Regarding Criminal History Review

The beginning of 2021 has seen more updates to this area of the law.  Specifically, IDFPR updated its regulations to ensure that the old restrictions on nursing licenses for those with a criminal record were officially repealed. 

In addition, and even more important, the Illinois General Assembly just introduced a new bill, HB0014, regarding licenses for those with criminal convictions.  The law would require that whenever IDFPR refuses to issue a license because of a criminal conviction, IDFPR must include in its notification to the applicant an “explanation of how the conviction directly relates to and would prevent the person from effectively engaging in the position” for which a license is sought.


The State of Illinois appears to be working hard to help those who want professional license to be able to pursue a career without a criminal conviction standing in the way.  In short, Illinois is trying to make sure, when appropriate, that “your mistakes don’t define your character” for the rest of your life.  

To learn more about what the right representation can do for you and your nursing license, contact me today.  I have the experience to help you obtain the nursing career of your dreams. 

Jordan Matyas

Jordan Matyas

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Jordan Matyas is a lawyer, lobbyist, and Founder of 1818 Legal, an Illinois professional licensing defense law firm he created in 2014. With more than 18 years of experience practicing law, he represents clients in a wide range of legal matters, including professional license defense, administrative law, land use and zoning, and state, local, and municipal law.

Jordan received his Juris Doctor from the University of Illinois — Chicago School of Law and is a member of the Illinois Bar Association.