Sex, Drugs and Alcohol: When Can Your Personal Life Jeopardize Your License?

Is it ever OK to get involved in a romantic relationship with a patient? When can drug or alcohol use, even if in and of itself legal, put a nurse practitioner's license in jeopardy? Can taking prescribed medications land medical providers in hot water? Like it or not, as nurse practitioners and physician assistants our personal and professional lives influence one another. Our actions outside hospital and clinic doors affect our ability to perform within them. 

Where should NPs and PAs draw the line when it comes to patient relationships, drug, alcohol and prescription medication use? Defining personal and professional boundaries isn't always clear cut. Let's take a quick look at the legality behind the following issues. 

Romantic Involvement with Patients

The most important question to ask when considering romantic involvement with a patient is "Is this a former or current patient?". Nurse practitioners and physician assistants should never date current patients. Should you find yourself interested in a patient, first and foremost transfer their medical care to another provider in the practice before proceeding. If you do proceed, do so with caution or you could find yourself charged with sexual misconduct. This blog post outlines the ins and outs of what's allowed when it comes to romantic involvement with a former patient.

Drug and Alcohol Use

Use of substances like drugs and alcohol can carry consequences even if they don't affect your job performance. Many employers prohibit drug use among employees so even if use of certain substances is legal in your state and won't affect your licensure status it could leave you unemployed. Nurse practitioners and physician assistants working unconventional hours need to be careful when it comes to alcohol consumption. Avoid drinking before the night shift, even if you have an event to attend before clocking in. 

Prescription Drug Use

Chronic use of medications that may impair performance is looked upon unfavorably by employers and licensing boards. The best way for healthcare providers to deal with issues like chronic pain is to pursue alternative treatment methods. If you are taking prescription medications, consistency is key. Make sure you are taking your medications as prescribed. Start new prescriptions that may have detrimental side effects when you have a few days off work so you know how they will affect you. Don't show up impaired at work or you could lose your license, prescription or not. 

An Attorney's Perspective

More often than we would like to admit, nurse practitioners and physician assistants find themselves standing before regulatory boards for issues surrounding relationships, drugs, alcohol, and prescription medication use. Healthcare attorney Alex Fisher works with medical providers representing them before boards of nursing and boards of medicine. Here's her take on the legal ramifications of these issues. 

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If you have a legal question related to professional boundaries as a nurse practitioner, attorney Alex Fisher is happy to help. She can be reached at


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