I Got Fired for Reading Patient Records. What Do I Say in a Job Interview?

Hi Ronnie Ann!

I got myself into a predicament and need your advice. Until yesterday (I got fired), I worked in the office at a healthcare facility. I was given access to both the office manager’s and the administrator’s passwords for my job. We were recommended to read patient charts to keep abreast of things.

I only work part time and on my days off I would read patient records, which is accessible online (kind of a dumb setup if you ask me). Anyway, I didn’t know that reading patient records is a serious offense and I was fired. How do I answer the job interview question why was I fired from my previous job?

I hate that I’m going to have this stigma attached to me, but I honestly had no clue that this was against the health regulations (we were encouraged to read records). I had no previous training in the medical field and some of my current training went by the wayside because I was only part time and they initially hired me to work the weekend.

You were a great help to me last time and I hope you can help me again. I’m sorry to bother you since, you’re limiting your responses. Any advice would be extremely grateful. I can’t seem to find any help online.


Hi JoJo!

I’m so sorry you’re going through this. And yes…while I can’t answer all the questions I get any more, I do feel really bad for you. And so I’ll share a few thoughts. (Hang in there. You’ll be ok. )

First, this is a lesson you will remember a long time and that’s a good thing in case you ever work in a hospital or health facility again. (I’ll explain in a second.) But please don’t worry…the stigma will go away.  :)

There is a Federal law called HIPAA that, among other things, protects the privacy of our health records. Most major computer systems are available online now, JoJo, but the protection is that you need a secure password to get in. And quite honestly, if the nursing home were operating from a security-first standpoint, you should have been given your own password with limited access – and NOT passwords assigned to others.  These records are private and no one except people directly concerned with treatment should be reading them. I would be appalled if I thought just anyone was reading my health records in their spare time! (I just want you to really understand what happened here.)

No question this company didn’t handle security as well as they could have. But considering the position you held there, reading private personal records while off duty is simply not ok. If you really get that and learn from it, I think this is a lesson that will serve you well for the rest of your career.

BUT…all that said…I don’t want you to beat yourself up or feel bad. We all make mistakes (especially ones we weren’t properly advised about, as in your case); and we all move on. I’ve screwed up so many times I can’t count it on my fingers!

Maybe someone else wants to chime in here, but for me the best way to handle this is by really knowing in your heart you’re a good employee and will do your best for your next employer. In the interview, all I would say when asked is something like “I made a mistake and I learned from it.” (Being honest without going into details helps when they do reference checking. A good employer will like that you didn’t lie.)

Then just quickly move on to explain that you believe mistakes occasionally happen and the best thing we can do is learn from them and then work extra hard never to let it happen again – and you intend to do that in this new job. Maybe even give them another example from a job or elsewhere where you turned a mistake into something really good.

You’ll be ok JoJo. Don’t hold anger or resentment about all this. Least of all toward yourself. Brush yourself off and find the next job. Each mistake makes us stronger. Just show the most positive, pleasant, fully-engaged side of yourself when you interview and you’ll get another chance.

Good luck!

Ronnie Ann


In case you want to read more:

To read JoJo’s original May 5, 2009 comment and all the follow-ups:

Explaining Why You Left the Last Job So Soon

You might also be interested in:

Do You Think of Yourself as a Failure?

Baby Stepping to a Career You Love


About the author…

Ronnie Ann, founder of Work Coach Cafe, bases her real-world advice on her many years as an organizational consultant where she helped interview and hire people, added to a certificate from NYU in Career Planning & Development and her own adventures as a serial job seeker. She can also be found on her new blog, and on Google+.


  1. I had about the same thing happen to me and I have a hard time forgiving myself or knowing what to say in an interview. We had our passwords flying around for our timesheet. Well, I happened to look at my co-workers timesheet. I immediately confessed to both the co-worker and my boss. They told me everything was fine and thanked me for my honesty. Three weeks later, out of the blue, I was called in and asked to resign and sign a form to relieve the DDS of any potenial problems. Then was told to collect my belongings. I did not sign my rights away and did not get my severance and had to ask for my vacation for he was holding that, too.
    So, what can I say? It was a mistake. Timesheets are not private or part of any personnel file. I was totally honest and remorseful…..K

  2. Thanks for sharing this with us, Kathy. I’m so sorry this happened to you. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t screwed up intentionally or unintentionally, so I just want to give you a big hug and wish you the best of luck!

    If you are asked what happened in a job interview, it’s best to be honest that you made a mistake (no details needed) and learned from this experience, have never had a problem before, and emphasize the strengths you bring to this new job. Be sure of yourself and it will show.

    Good luck!

  3. How can one be “honest” without revealing details. Whenever I have tried to do this (generalize), I seem to get drilled and feel pressured to reveal details. This might have more to do with my own insecurities, but I’m also one that cannot lie or even “fudge” the truth. I so wish that I would have taken a debate class in high school or college. I know: It’s never too late! I am desperately seeking employment and have transportation and financial issues. In other words, I have no wiggle room!

    Thank you in advance ~ StevieGirl

  4. You said: “It’s never too late!” Yup. 🙂

    As for feeling like you need to reveal details, maybe if you don’t leave it open ended it will help. Show what you’ve learned from it and bring it back to the job you’re interviewing for – showing how you will handle things differently or better or how what you learned only made you more determined, etc.

    Other than that, it’s just about looking them in the eyes and sticking to your guns not to tell all. No interviewer needs to know every detail. Tell them enough, use the technique above and move on. If they still keep pressing, just say you hope they understand that you respect the privacy of the other company as you will also respect theirs. And again look them in the eyes, smile, and stop. 😉

    Good luck!

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