The most important thing is to be honest with any future employer. It will feel tempting to try and conceal it, hoping no one finds out. However, if it is discovered, you are likely to be dismissed or even referred again for dishonesty.
Most employers use values-based recruitment in healthcare and related fields which means they expect applicants to demonstrate honesty, openness and integrity.
Many application forms will directly ask for this information. If it does, you must disclose it on the form.
If the application form doesn’t ask for this information, then you can choose when to disclose. This might be in your covering letter or during the interview. It might be worth giving yourself a chance to make a positive impression before mentioning it.
Focus on what you bring to the role
It’s important you don’t let the incident in question dominate your application or interview. Always remain focused on your skills and what you bring to the role as you would in any job application.
When disclosing a dismissal, investigation, hearing or sanction be concise and factual. Leave emotions out and avoid the temptation to blame others or be negative about previous employers, even if you have good reason to do so.
If you believe poor systems contributed to the incidents in question, outline the systems that were in place but refrain from passing judgement on them. Let your prospective employer take their own view on it. State what you would do differently if you were in the same situation and detail any reasons you feel there is unlikely to be a recurrence of the problem/s.
This might include emphasising what you have done since the incident to reflect, learn, gain insight and address any issues raised. Make sure you mention any counselling, mentoring, e-learning or self-directed learning, courses or study days you may have completed since the episode.
If you are under a ‘conditions of practice’ order, ensure you outline these clearly to your future employer. Supervisors will need to accept these conditions and possibly adapt the role you are applying for. Regulators usually put the onus on you, the sanctioned practitioner, not an employer for ensuring conditions are met.
Be mentally prepared
Make certain you are ready and able to return to work. Being dismissed, investigated or sanctioned is distressing, traumatic, emotional and exhausting no matter the circumstances of the case. It will take a toll on your mental health and could affect your attitude to employers and other organisations and professionals. This will come across not just in interviews but in your relationships at work.
Consider investing in counselling to help you process the experience and move on.
Many employers will feel understandably nervous about taking on someone who has been investigated, sanctioned or dismissed so you should expect some knock-backs. This will feel painful and upsetting so it’s vital you are prepared and resilient.
Practice what you are going to say and rehearse it several times. Consider working with a careers coach to discuss the approach you will use.
If you are a nurse the Royal College of Nursing offers a careers service that can help nurses apply for jobs following investigation, disciplinary, dismissal or NMC referral. They will provide feedback on CVs and cover letters, supporting statement and offer interview coaching and practice.
For those undergoing a Nursing and Midwifery Council investigation or sanction, the organisation NMC Watch also provide ‘buddies’ who can help support you through the day-to-day challenges including going back to work.
If you find you are consistently being turned down for roles, ask for feedback on what else you could do to help become a better employment prospect.
Be flexible when looking for roles
Temporary or agency jobs are worth considering. Employers may feel more comfortable giving you a chance in roles with less commitment and for shorter periods of time. This also gives you an opportunity to prove how you have moved on and the value and skills you bring to a team.
For nurses it is also worth getting in touch with NMC Watch who have done exploratory work with agencies and trusts to find placements for those either under investigation or with conditions on their practice.
Also look at roles in related fields or positions – such as support roles, non-registered roles or volunteer roles with charities.
These could be a good opportunity to build confidence, gain recent work experience and positive references. However, a number of factors need to be taken into account (in addition to the undoubted pay cut they represent):
- You will still need to disclose any sanction or conditions of practice.
- This work would not count towards any revalidation or re-registration requirements
- If you are still on the register, you remain subject to the regulator’s codes and guidelines
- You will need to be careful you do not overstep role boundaries
Getting a reference
Your old employer doesn’t have to give you a reference - but if they do, it must be truthful and fair.
You might get a bad reference if you’ve been sacked for poor performance or misconduct. This is because your old employer can be sued if they don’t mention something about you that later causes problems for a new employer.
However, if you have been cleared during an investigation they should not mention this in a reference as it would be unfair.
You can ask your new or old employer to see a copy of your reference. They are not obliged to provide it, but if they do then you can check it. You can ask your former employer to change anything if it is untrue.
Alternatively, also ask your old employer for a basic reference - this just gives your job title, salary and dates of employment. Many employers do this, so it won't look odd to a new employer.
Work on finding new references through volunteering roles, undertaking courses or even working in a completely different field for a while.
Don’t be disheartened
While your job-seeking journey will undoubtedly be more difficult than others, most healthcare sectors are experiencing severe staff shortages at the moment.
If you can make a good impression and convince an employer of the unlikelihood of a repeat of the problem, there is a good chance you will be given a second chance. For example, four suspended nurses had their cases reviewed and were allowed to return to the nursing register to help the Covid-19 effort in 2020.
Remember, challenges can also be opportunities. Many of the emotional and mental obstacles you face or have faced are also experienced by those patients/clients you are trying to help.
The patience, resilience and determination you will need to secure a new job are also vital characteristics for success in many mental health roles. You may well come out the other side a better, stronger and more empathetic practitioner.
- Jones-Berry, S. NMC allows suspended nurses to return to practice to shore up covid-19 effort. Nursing Standard, 2020 https://rcni.com/nursing-standard/newsroom/news/nmc-allows-suspended-nurses-to-return-to-practice-to-shore-covid-19-effort-161266
- Royal College of Nursing. Your career: Applying for a job following investigation, sanction or dismissal https://www.rcn.org.uk/professional-development/your-career/applying-for-a-job-following-dismissal
- NMC Watch. Return to Practice from Fitness to Practice Investigations (pilot). https://nmcwatch.org.uk/employment-pilot/
- Ford, M. Project seeks to support nurses under FtP ‘struggling’ to find employment. Nursing Times. 2021 https://www.nursingtimes.net/news/professional-regulation/project-seeks-to-support-nurses-under-ftp-struggling-to-find-employment-14-04-2021/
- Citizens Advice. Getting a job reference. https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/work/leaving-a-job/after-leaving-your-job/getting-a-job-reference/
- Maben, J., Hoinville, L., Querstret, D. et al. Living life in limbo: experiences of healthcare professionals during the HCPC fitness to practice investigation process in the UK. BMC Health Serv Res 21, 839 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12913-021-06785-7