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Healthcare workers impaired on the job

March 28, 2016
by Kathleen Mears
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While surfing the ’Net one day, I came upon a healthcare professionals' website where a student nurse commented she smoked marijuana frequently off-duty. She wondered what would happen if she continued to smoke marijuana after she was licensed and working as a nurse. She stressed that she wanted to be a nurse and did not think her recreational marijuana use should have any negative effect on her job.

Several nurses commented that she would probably be randomly tested for drugs at work and it would be positive for marijuana. They said it did not matter whether the marijuana was smoked—whether off-duty, three days before or the night before—she could still be fired for using an illegal substance. Most comments suggested she might want to pursue a profession other than healthcare because responders thought there was a good possibility she could lose her nursing license because of her penchant for marijuana.

Even though marijuana is legal in some states, the federal government classifies its use as illegal. Smoking marijuana even off-duty can be detected in a drug test, and the way it affects the worker could possibly endanger those he or she cares for.

I remember vividly some months after I moved to my first nursing home noticing the smell of alcohol on an aide's breath. It surprised me that anyone would come to work smelling of alcohol. I reported that aide to the director of nursing. I never knew the outcome but that aide stopped working soon after.

We all know there are functioning alcoholics who drink every day and show up to work. Many of them do not reek of alcohol or show any effects of it. I clearly remember when a housekeeper, an employee of my first nursing home for several years, suddenly disappeared. Thinking she was ill, I asked about her. I was told she had been an alcoholic for years and they had allowed her to work in spite of it. But when she could no longer be dependable and do her job, they had to let her go.

Substance abuse has been a problem in the workplace for a very long time. I am sure no one has a way to keep those impaired by substances from working. All employers can do is be vigilant and pay attention to their employees' behavior while at work.


Kathleen Mears

Kathleen Mears has been a nursing home resident in Ohio for 20 years. She is an incomplete...