Earlier in the year, a scandal emerged in the world of nursing.
As part of a plan called Operation Nightingale, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General launched an investigation into an alleged scheme where prospective nurses could pay to receive degrees from certain Florida nursing schools—without actually attending class.
“A network of nursing school operators, centered in South Florida, illegally charged each student between $10,000 for a licensed practical nurse degree and $17,000 for a registered nurse diploma — without requiring proper training, according to federal authorities and court records,” author Jay Weaver reported for the Miami Herald.
The schools initially involved in this alleged plot were the “Siena College in Broward County, Fla., Palm Beach School of Nursing in Palm Beach County, Fla., and Sacred Heart International Institute in Broward County,” a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office from the Southern District of Florida stated. These three schools are now closed.
Since this press release, several more Florida schools are being investigated: Carleen Health Institute of South Florida, West Palm Beach; Med-Life Institute, Lauderdale Lakes; Myrielle School of Nursing, Palm Springs; Nursing Bridges Institute, Pensacola; Palm Beach International College, Lake Worth; Suncoast College of Health, Bradenton; and Techni-Pro Institute, LLC., Boca Raton.
“…The Florida Commission for Independent Education approved the emergency ceasing of operations, including graduations, for certain institutions through 3/31/23,” a press release from the Florida Board of Nursing stated.
While the HHS-OIG says that only 25 individuals have been formally charged in this scheme, it also alleged that over 7,600 fake nursing diplomas and transcripts were issued by the schools.
Furthermore, “the certificates enabled untrained individuals to sit for the national nursing board exams and at least 2,800 of them passed,” Emma Whitford and Janet Novack reported for Forbes.
This means that there were potentially hundreds of nurses practicing in the United States without proper training. According to federal officials cited by NPR, “many of those people may lose their certification but likely won’t be criminally charged.”
Slowly, the news is beginning to trickle out to the individual states in which these alleged fake nurses are practicing.
However, given the different legal structures of each state and nursing accreditation board, the actual process of removing these nurses from their practices has been complicated.
For example, in Delaware, the process was near-immediate. Following the investigation, “…Twenty-six nurses were informed that their nursing license was annulled,” John Paul reported for 6 ABC. These nurses have the opportunity to contest this decision.
However, in Georgia, while “the FBI informed state investigators that 22 nurses practicing in Georgia allegedly obtained their licenses with fake diplomas or transcripts,” the nurses have instead been asked to voluntarily surrender their licenses within 30 days, per Channel 2 WSB-TV. Some of the affected nurses are fighting this charge, claiming they received their degrees through legitimate means.
This does not necessarily mean that the nurses are still practicing, as hospitals and other medical institutions can independently decide to let the nurses go before they’ve surrendered their licenses. For example, the Department of Veterans Affairs has removed 89 nurses from direct patient care who are alleged to have received their degrees fraudulently, per Forbes.
As is evidenced above, each state has taken a different approach to outing alleged fake nurses. TikTok user and remote psychiatric nurse practitioner Morgan (@morgansandiego) went viral after documenting how several states have attempted to expose those who are fraudulently practicing in their states.
Her initial video currently has over 609,000 views.
@morgansandiego Georgia and Texas releasing names and photos of fake nurses & short biographies of their past criminal wrongdoings. According to documents, both states have referred several cases over to the district attorney’s office. #registerednurse #fakenurse #georgia #texas #nursingschool #nursingstudent #operationnightingale #nursetok #greenscreen ♬ original sound – Morgan NP
As Morgan explains, the Georgia Board of Nursing has a page dedicated to exposing fake nurses. Some nurses appear to have been practicing without providing any accreditation at all, while others seem to have been using stolen identities to pretend to be people with proper certifications and accreditations.
People can also report alleged fake nurses on this page.
The Texas Board of Nursing has a similar page in which it documents the stories of various people it claims are fraudulently practicing in the state. Viewers are again given the option to submit their own claims.
While this may appear to be related to Operation Nightingale, they are not; these nurses were investigated prior to the HHS-OIG’s announcement of its findings.
Instead, these websites serve as a reminder about how unfortunately common fake nurses were prior to this investigation.
Over the years, there have been numerous news stories in the United States about schools and individuals issuing nursing degrees without the proper authority, or nurses being caught practicing without a degree.
In July 2021, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Maryland charged 3 people for “participating in a healthcare fraud scheme to sell fraudulent nursing degrees.” In October 2022, “a Florida woman [was] accused of setting up a fake nursing school and defrauding 37 students out of more than $93,000,” per Kiro 7.
Fake nurses are caught with both encouraging and alarming frequency. In some cases, these alleged fake nurses are caught within a short time after beginning their practice; in other cases, these alleged fake nurses have practiced for years before they were caught.
Back on TikTok, users shared their thoughts on fake nurses under Morgan’s video.
“I worked so hard for my Texas RN license and patients deserve real care,” one user wrote. “This is terrifying.”
“I’m so scared since I’m a chronically ill person in Florida with some horrible experiences with some nurses,” another shared. “this is making me think.”
“When I got my RN I had an issue with my BON cuz someone registered an account with BON with my SSN years ago,” a third alleged. “It had to be investigated.”
The Daily Dot reached out to Morgan via her website contact form.