Drinking, driving, and your other license

Getting a DUI may affect more than your driver’s license. A professional license may be disciplined for just one, a California court has held. The Board of Registered Nursing had imposed discipline upon an otherwise blemish-free RN after he collided with the center divider on the freeway. A breath test showed a blood-alcohol content of .16 percent. The nurse appealed, but the court sided with the agency.

The Business & Professions Code allows a licensing agency to discipline a licensee for any conviction that is “substantially related” to practicing the profession. But, according to the court, the Nursing Board could discipline the nurse even though his conviction was not substantially related to being a nurse. The Nursing Practice Act prohibits a nurse from using “alcoholic beverages, to an extent or in a manner dangerous or injurious to himself or herself, any other person, or the public . . ..” Also considered unprofessional conduct is any conviction “for a criminal offense involving the prescription, consumption, or self-administration” of alcohol or drugs is also unprofessional conduct.  Because the defendant’s DUI endangered himself and others and led to his conviction for a crime involving alcohol, it was unprofessional conduct.

The court’s decision shows the great disparity in how the law treats different professionals. Some, like registered nurses, can face discipline the first time they engage in alcohol-related misconduct. Vocational nurses, chiropractors, occupational and respiratory therapists, and optometrists are among this group. For acupuncturists, any alcohol consumption that endangers themselves or the public is unprofessional conduct, but the law does not deem every alcohol-related conviction misconduct. The Naturopathic Medicine Commitee has determined that every DUI conviction is substantially related to practice, but it says nothing about any other alcohol-related conduct. Physicians, pharmacists, dentists and veterinarians get one free drunk: only the second conviction is unprofessional conduct. Physical therapists get in trouble only if the conviction is substantially related to their practice.

Of course, the risks of driving  under the influence go way beyond the impact on your license. And anyone who wants to know what the law says before getting drunk may well have a drinking problem already.

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