In many cases nurses are required to take a drug test prior to being hired for a position at a hospital, doctors office or healthcare facility.
Depending on the organization the nurse works for he/she may or may not be required to participate in regular post-hiring screenings.
Facilities that do perform screenings may perform them on a monthly, yearly or random basis, however in many cases nurses may work for years without being required or requested to participate in any drug testing.
In fact it is possible that the only drug test a nurse is required to take is the one that happens prior to being hired for a position or potentially when a nurse applies for a new position within the organization he/she works for.
The frequency and randomness of drug tests is often dependent upon the organization they work for.
Those who operate as military or navy nurses are often required to take regular drug tests to ensure that they are not working under the influence of any illegal/impairing drugs.
Likewise organizations that place a high priority on patient safety and employee compliance may perform routine drug tests in order to ensure that employees aren’t working under the influence of potential drugs or alcohol.
Aside from nurses being tested for certain drug substances students who apply for positions in the nursing program may also be required to participate in drug testing.
If a nurse or student is on prescription drugs during the time of their drug test the potentially positive results related to those drugs may be excused or omitted from testing, however organizations may also look at the level/amount of drugs in the individuals system to ensure that the nurse/student isn’t abusing the prescription drugs beyond their recommended or prescribed dosage.
When tests may be required
Organizations and healthcare facilities may require drug testing when they hire a nurse or when a student applies for the nursing program.
In addition to being tested during hiring nurses may also be required to participate in period specific or randomized testing, which can vary greatly depending on their employer.
Testing may also be required for legal cases or when a nurse is injured at the hospital or healthcare facility in order to rule out illegal substances as a possible cause for the injury.
If a nurse is involved in a medical mistake that causes potential harm to a patients health the nurse may also be required to participate in drug testing to rule out drugs or alcohol as a potential cause for the medical mistake, especially if it results in harming a patient.
Types of drug testing
Those who are requested/required to take a drug test may be required to take one of several tests which include urine, blood, saliva and hair sample tests.
The most common type of test is the urine test which can be used to measure recent activities of drug usage.
Depending on the test the results can confirm whether or not a substance has been taken within a certain period of time and the amount of drugs that are in the nurses system (if any) at the time of the testing.
Hair samples may be able to identify potential drug usage for a longer period of time than a pee test, however these tests are much less common.
A hair sample test may be used in legal testing for court cases, but are likely never used for regular drug screenings.
Blood, saliva and other forms of testing may also be required, however they are much less common than a urine test.
While this is rare it is possible that a drug test may show a false positive when an individual is tested.
In other words the test my appear to confirm that an individual does have drugs in their system when in fact they never used the drug that is being confirmed in the test.
One complaint that some individuals state regarding randomized testing is that they may be positively tested for a drug that they never actually took.
As stated previously it is rare that an individual will test positive for a drug test if they haven’t used any drugs, however it can happen which can cause a lot of headaches for those who are ruled as using drugs when they really haven’t.
Prescription drugs, substances cross-reacting and human error regarding reading the test are all potential reasons for a false positive to show up.
On the other hand testing may also result in a false negative where an individual that is using a drug is stated as not using that drug by the test that was performed on him/her.
If an individual is falsely identified as using a drug or illegal substance he/she may speak with their employer about the situation or seek legal counsel regarding the false results of the test.
When a nurse does test positive
Depending on the facility or organization a nurse works for and the extent of the situation the response or disciplinary action the nurse faces can vary significantly.
These actions may include mild or no disciplinary action (some nurses have reported no punishment or disciplinary actions being taken on them), mandatory counseling and/or participation in AA (or other drug related) meetings, paid/unpaid time off from work, being fired, losing their nursing licence and/or possible legal action which can include jail time and fines (especially if a patient is injured or harmed).