Introduction You've worked hard to become a nurse. Patients and their families put their trust in you, and you enjoy providing your patients with the best possible care.
It should be no surprise that nurses who abuse patients are likely to lose their nursing licenses, in addition to facing severe criminal penalties. But did you know that you could face professional discipline even if you make an honest mistake, or if you get in trouble outside of the workplace?
The thought of losing your license can be terrifying. How will you provide for your family? Will anyone ever hire you again? How can you face your friends?
This article is intended to help you protect your license, enhance your patient care, and understand what to expect if you ever face disciplinary charges. What Constitutes Professional Misconduct? The New York State Education Department's Office of the Professions, the agency which disciplines nurses, provides the following list of activities constituting professional misconduct on its website (http://www.op.nysed.gov/opd, as of May 25, 2017): Engaging in acts of gross incompetence or gross negligence on a single occasion or negligence or incompetence on more than one occasion. Permitting or aiding an unlicensed person to perform activities requiring a license Don't let someone who you know is not licensed let people perform tasks that only a licensed person is allowed to do. Refusing a client or patient service because of race, creed, color, or national origin It is improper to discriminate based upon these factors. Practicing beyond the scope of the profession Don't perform tasks in your capacity as a nurse that you shouldn't do yourself. Releasing confidential information without authorization Don't ever disclose confidential information with out proper authorization. This could also constitute a HIPAA violation. Being convicted of a crime This includes any criminal offense. Failing to return or provide copies of records on request This could also be considered a HIPAA violation, depending on the circumstances. Being sexually or physically abusive Do not be sexually or physically abusive to anyone in your professional or personal life. Abandoning or neglecting a patient in need of immediate care; Nurses are supposed to always provide care to those in need. Performing unnecessary work or unauthorized services; and This can be considered a form of improper patient care. Practicing under the influence of alcohol or other drugs. As you can see, the definition of professional misconduct is pretty broad. Some prohibited conduct is easy to identify and avoid. Other violations are not as easy to figure out, however, and a nurse could end up committing professional misconduct unintentionally, despite his or her best intentions. To help understand this dilemma, consider the following scenario which I recently learned from an excellent nurse consultant who worked with me as an expert in a medical malpractice case. Case Study #1 An RN at a mental health clinic was responsible for administering injections of a controlled substance to patients suffering from severe mental illness. Failure to strictly adhere to a patient's dosing schedule would create a substantial risk of extreme regression and resurgence of symptoms. Occasionally, when a patient would present for an injection, the RN would discover that the clinic did not have the new order from the patient's doctor, as required to administer the injection. Knowing the severe consequences if the patient's dose was delayed, the RN would borrow a dose from another patient, administer the injection, and replace that dose after obtaining the order. Even though this practice was clearly done for the benefit of patients, it was, technically, an unacceptable clinical action. The RN was suspended from her job and faced serious professional discipline. However, after fighting the charges, her license was not negatively impacted. She received a mere warning and was restored to her previous position. When should a nurse contact an attorney? If you are concerned that you may have done something that could subject you to discipline, you should consult an attorney with experience defending nurses. What Are Your Options? If you are facing discipline, it is important to remember that you have options. You have the right to a hearing at which you can defend your actions and attempt to have the charges dismissed. You also have the right to be represented by an attorney throughout the entire process, and it is strongly recommended that you retain a lawyer with experience defending nurses as soon as possible to protect your legal rights. Be Careful What You Say You should remember that everything you say to the Office of the Professions can be used against you, and sometimes even if you feel you did nothing wrong, your statement can have an unanticipated, detrimental effect. An attorney experienced in dealing with matters before the Office of Professions can help you build the best possible defense to the charges against you, handle all communications with the Office of the Professions, attempt to have the charges dismissed, attempt to negotiate an acceptable resolution without the need for a hearing, and protect you at the hearing. Read Parts 2 and 3 Part 2 contains information regarding the penalties that nurses can face, as well as an explanation of the process that nurses will go through to defend themselves. Part 3 has several "best practices" to help nurses stay out of trouble, as well as a variety of tips to help nurses defend themselves if they ever face discipline. About the Author John A. Musacchio is an attorney with the law firm Towne, Ryan & Partners, P.C., which has five offices in Upstate New York and a sixth office in Bennington, Vermont. In addition to defending nurses in professional discipline matters, John's statewide practice also includes estate planning, Medicaid planning, criminal and DWI defense, labor and employment law, personal injury matters, real estate transactions, business law, and litigation in all of these areas. He has been selected to the Upstate New York Super Lawyers Rising Stars list in 2015, 2016 and 2017. John can be reached by telephone at (518) 738-0080 and by e-mail at [email protected] Disclaimer The information provided in this article is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to create an attorney-client relationship, nor is it meant to be construed as legal advice. You should speak directly with an attorney to obtain legal advice about your particular issue(s). Attorney advertising. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.