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Nursing Background Checks: A Complete Guide

Nursing Background Checks

Nurses play a critical role in caring for vulnerable populations. Pre-employment background checks can help you make informed hiring decisions to build a nursing staff you trust, while maintaining patient safety, and mitigating organizational risk. However, it’s essential to create a nurse background check program that’s compliant at the local, state, and federal levels.

In this article, we’ll explore why conducting nurse background checks is important, what shows up on one, how long it takes to complete, and what laws and regulations may be applicable for screening compliance.

What Is A Nursing Background Check?

Nursing background checks help employers determine whether a candidate has the necessary skills and qualifications for a position within the healthcare field. It may include searching public records, databases, and other data to verify a candidate’s identity, past employment, education, and professional licenses. It may also show disciplinary action, debarments, drug use, and information about a criminal history, such as misdemeanor and felony convictions.

A nurse background check program may be used by licensing boards, nursing schools, and other healthcare organizations to screen candidates applying to work in hospitals, long-term care facilities, rehabilitation centers, physician’s offices, or as in-home caregivers.

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Why Do Employers Need To Run Background Checks On Nurses?

A nurse background check can help employers maintain patient and employee safety, minimize liability, and protect an organization’s reputation by helping employers determine which candidates are best suited for open nursing positions. Employers may conduct pre-employment screenings to verify a candidate’s qualifications, skills, and educational background. They can also help you identify candidates who have disqualifying offenses, lack the appropriate licensing, or have received sanctions or other disciplinary action.

What Prevents You From Being A Nurse?

Charges that can stop you from being a nurse vary by state. Most state nursing boards conduct a criminal background check to review a candidate’s history before issuing a license, as do many healthcare organizations before hiring. So you may wonder, can you be a nurse with a felony, or can you be a nurse with a misdemeanor?

It depends on the offense, the hiring organization’s background check policy, and the state. Common disqualifying offenses include convictions for violent crimes, sex offenses, drug offenses, fraud, theft, and patient, child, or elder abuse. In some states, certain offenses automatically disqualify candidates from being a nurse. For example, in Florida, kidnapping, murder, manslaughter, assault, sexual abuse, and other serious charges are considered disqualifying offenses. 

In other states, convictions require a review by the state nursing regulatory board. For example, in California, there are no automatic disqualifications. The California Board of Registered Nursing reviews criminal convictions on a case-by-case basis. However, sex offenses, violent crimes, failing to follow reporting requirements, and fraud may prevent a candidate from working as a nurse in the state.

Other records that may disqualify someone from a nursing job may include exclusions or sanctions, incomplete educational requirements, exam failures, license non-renewal, or failed drug tests.

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Nursing Background Check Laws

There are many necessary steps when screening candidates with nurse background checks, and it’s important that each complies with various federal, state, and local laws and regulations. Here’s an overview of federal and state laws that may apply based on the role and your screening program.

Federal Nursing Background Check Laws

The federal Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) applies to employers that work with consumer reporting agencies (CRAs) to conduct background checks. Under the Act, employers must provide written notification of their intent to conduct a background check and receive written permission from the candidate to do so. You must also give candidates a standard Summary of Rights document and follow the adverse action process if you don’t move forward with an employment decision because of the results of a background check.

State Nursing Background Check Laws

Many states have nursing background check laws that may impact how employers conduct screenings. Here are a few examples of state laws that may impact your background check process.

  • Alabama registered nurses or licensed practical nurses must provide their fingerprints to the Alabama Board of Nursing so it may obtain a state and national criminal history background check. 
  • California requires nurses applying for a licensure, registration, or permit to submit their fingerprints for a federal and state criminal history record check through the California Department of Justice (DOJ). The DOJ keeps fingerprints on file and provides ongoing updates about future arrests or convictions.
  • Louisiana registered nurses and advanced placement registered nurses must submit two fingerprint cards to the state or local police/sheriff department. The cards are sent to the Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Federal Bureau of Investigation for a criminal records check.
  • Idaho applicants for nursing licensure or reinstatement must provide their fingerprints to the Idaho Board of Nursing for a criminal history check through the Idaho Central Criminal database and the Federal Bureau of Investigation criminal history database.
  • Delaware registered nurses and licensed practical nurses must consent to a criminal records check through the State Bureau of Identification and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Are there states that don’t require background checks for nurses? Though all states require nursing license verification, currently  Colorado, Wisconsin, New York, Vermont, Maine, and Hawaii do not require further background screenings at the state level. Please confirm with your state’s licensing board for the most up-to-date and applicable laws for your hiring location.

Nursing Background Check Requirements

Because of nurses’ critical role in protecting public health, nursing background check requirements are typically more extensive than other types of pre-employment screenings. What does a nursing background check include? A comprehensive nursing background check often includes employment, education, and professional license verification, criminal history searches, healthcare sanctions checks, and drug screening. Requirements may vary based on location, position, and the employer’s background check policy.

A common type of healthcare sanctions check is a FACIS® (Fraud and Abuse Control Information System) search. There are multiple FACIS® screening levels that search various primary sources and lists. All levels include a search of the Federal Office of Inspector General (OIG) List of Excluded Individuals and Entities (LEIE) and System for Award Management (SAM) database. Level 1 also includes additional federal sources, while a Level 2 background check for nursing also includes state-specific Medicare and Medicaid data. A Level 3 screening is the most comprehensive and includes the searches from Levels 1 and 2, plus state board disciplinary actions and state abuse registries. FACIS checks are often a standard screening for healthcare related roles, such as physicians, nurses, and administrative employees. 

What Shows Up On A Nursing Background Check?

What shows up on a nursing background check depends on the searches you conduct. Comprehensive background checks for nurses generally include multiple screenings to help protect patient safety and maintain compliance and may include the following:

  • Criminal background checks for nurses identify reportable infractions, misdemeanors, felony convictions, and pending criminal cases.
  • A sex offender registry search shows whether a candidate is a registered sex offender, including registration date and current status. .
  • A professional license verification confirms a candidate’s professional licenses, including the issue date, expiration date, credential title, and current status. Some states require nurses to earn continuing education credits to maintain their licenses.
  • Education verification verifies attendance dates, majors, and degrees earned at any US high school, college, university, or vocational school. 
  • Employment verification verifies previous positions, including employment dates and job title.
  • Drug screening reports the presence of certain prescription and illicit drugs. 
  • Credit checks disclose payment history, collection accounts, bankruptcies, foreclosures, and repossessions.
  • MVR checks show a candidate’s driving record, including license class and status, traffic violations, and driving-related convictions.
  • Healthcare sanction checks report penalties, suspensions, or punitive or disciplinary actions taken against a healthcare professional from more than 1,000 government sources and lists.

How To Get A Nursing Background Check

Your human resources team may choose to conduct nursing background checks in-house or work with a background check provider, like GoodHire. If you handle screenings internally, you must request candidate records from state agencies, courthouses, previous employers, and educational institutions. You may be able to use resources like the National Student Clearinghouse to verify a candidate’s education information or check the OIG’s sanctions database or SAM exclusion list to find out if they have any exclusions.

But you’ll likely need to contact previous employers individually to verify employment history. To verify licensing information, you may be able to look up information online or contact your state’s nursing board. 

You can visit your local superior court to request a criminal history record for that specific county, or request a criminal search from your state bureau of investigation. However, county records will exclude criminal activity in other counties, and not all state departments contribute criminal record information to a centralized state database so you may find incomplete or outdated information.

The easiest way to get a comprehensive nursing background check is to use a qualified screening provider, like GoodHire. GoodHire helps speed the process, allowing you to get fast, accurate background check results. Our customizable packages make it easy to create a screening program that adheres to nursing background check requirements without sacrificing time and effort so you can hire at scale.

How Far Back Do Nursing Background Checks Go?

How far back a nursing background check goes depends on the screenings you conduct and whether you work with a screening provider. If you work with a CRA to conduct background checks for nurses, the federal FCRA limits the look-back period for certain types of information. Criminal arrests not resulting in a conviction, civil suits and judgments, paid tax liens, and accounts sent to collections can only be reported for seven years and bankruptcies can only be reported for ten years. Criminal convictions can be reported indefinitely. For positions with a salary of $75,000 or more, the seven-year limit doesn’t apply. How far back a background check goes may also depend on any fair chance hiring laws specific to the employer or candidate’s jurisdiction.

How Long Does A Nursing Background Check Take?

Turnaround times for a nursing background check vary depending on the scope of the search, the screenings you include, and the availability of records. Some records that are available online such as the national sex offender registry or national criminal databases may be returned within minutes. However, it can take a week or longer if you have to conduct manual searches or rely on other people, such as previous employers, to provide the necessary information.

Working with a screening provider, like GoodHire, can help speed the background check process with automated workflows and built-in compliance features. CRAs often have access to databases that help speed turnaround times and dashboards that provide candidates with at-a-glance results and status updates, reducing the need for follow-up.

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Maintain Patient Safety & Compliance With Nursing Background Checks From GoodHire

Nursing background checks can help your healthcare organization protect your patients by helping you make informed hiring decisions. They can also help you maintain compliance with federal, state, and local laws and regulations pertaining to the healthcare industry.

GoodHire offers a suite of screening options to conduct comprehensive nursing background checks. We streamline and simplify the process with accurate, easy-to-read reports and monitoring alerts while supporting compliance with applicable laws and regulations. Get started today.


The resources provided here are for educational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. We advise you to consult your own counsel if you have legal questions related to your specific practices and compliance with applicable laws.

About the Author

As GoodHire’s managing editor, Sara Korolevich produces educational resources for employers on a variety of employment screening topics, including compliance and screening best practices, and writes about GoodHire’s company and product news. Sara’s experience stems from 20+ years working as a B2C and B2B PR and communications professional.