Protect your nursing practice and your career
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EDITOR'S NOTE: Nancy J. Brent, MS, JD, RN, brings more than 30 years of experience to her role as Nurse.com’s legal information columnist.
Which specialty should you consider? Do you want to teach or practice? In which practice setting do you think you could best contribute your skills and expertise? As a nurse, you have countless decisions to make to develop your career, and you can always change your path. What should not change is how resolute you are in protecting your license and your practice.
An unpleasant constant for nurses throughout their careers is that there are potential liabilities linked to their profession. A nurse can be named as a defendant in a professional negligence case, for instance, or accused of violating the nurse practice act or its rules, defaming a fellow worker, breaching a contract of employment or breaching a patient’s confidentiality. But there are legal means that can help protect you and your practice. Here are my tips for avoiding potential liability:
Avoid the legal pitfalls — obvious and otherwise
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Know your state nurse practice act and its rules and review them on a regular basis.
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Stay informed by attending board of nursing meetings.
Purchase and maintain your own professional liability insurance policy.
Remain clinically current in your chosen specialty.
Participate in research or design and carry out your own research study to help support needed changes in patient care. This can reduce your liability when providing care to patients.
Use evidence-based nursing practices.
Be mindful at all times when providing patient care or preparing and administering medications.
Participate in continuing education programs in nursing in order to maintain continued competency in the areas in which you practice.
Enroll in an advanced degree nursing program to increase your ability to use critical thinking and problem solving skills in your practice.
Maintain a general knowledge of law applicable to nursing practice and your practice specifically.
Maintain open lines of direct and honest communication with nursing and other healthcare team members, patients and patients' families.
Utilize a risk management approach when providing care to patients to decrease risk of injury to or death of a patient.
Know your employee handbook, review it regularly for changes and follow your employer’s adopted policies and procedures.
If you’re a student or a faculty member in a nursing education program, learn your rights and responsibilities as stated in your faculty and student handbook.
Know your protections under workers’ compensation laws and report any injury in the workplace as required under the law.
If you’re a union member, evaluate your benefits and rights and use the bargaining agreement’s protections, as needed.
Uphold safety requirements in the workplace for yourself and patients.
Uphold the American Nurses Association's and other professional nursing associations’ code of ethics.
Observe age-old, good documentation principles when recording patient care.
Participate in the political process to shape legislation and elect legislators who support nursing.
If you’re an advanced practice registered nurse, order medications, treatments and other healthcare regimens within your scope of practice.
Avoid using bullying, intimidating or other behaviors that are not respectful of patients or fellow staff.
Retain a nurse attorney or attorney as soon as possible whenever you face potential legal liability, require a consultation on a practice matter or when concerns about your practice arise.
Adhere to your facility’s chain of command when reporting patient care issues.
Join and become an active member of professional nursing associations that affect your specific practice.
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How can you significantly impact the future of nursing?
Whether your goals are practical or theoretical, Seton Hall University's nationally recognized College of Nursing has been developing leaders since 1957. Let us help you become one of them.
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- Indirect Care - Health Systems Administration

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25 legal tools no nurse should be without
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By Nancy J. Brent, MS, JD, RN
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