What Is a Nurse Attorney?
Curious about your career options as a nurse? If you have a keen eye for detail and are interested in a non-clinical role, you may want to consider becoming a nurse attorney. Also known as a nurse lawyer, this role combines medical and legal knowledge to advocate for clients. This profession requires a confident understanding of nursing principles and the intricacies of healthcare systems.
Nurse lawyers must articulate complex medical and legal concepts to diverse audiences, whether they’re healthcare professionals, legal authorities, or patients. Flexibility, resilience, and an analytical mindset are crucial attributes in this role. Here’s what to know about pursuing this path.
What It Means to Be a Nurse Attorney
Nurse attorneys have both a nursing license and a law degree. They work at the essential junction of law and medicine to represent healthcare providers, assist in malpractice cases, report discrepancies in medical records, and much more. Nurse attorneys may work in several settings:
- Government agencies
- Law and consulting firms
- Hospital legal teams
- Insurance companies
Nursing Attorney vs. Legal Nurse Consultant
While they might sound similar, nurse attorneys are different from legal nurse consultants (LNCs). Nurse attorneys are licensed to represent clients in legal matters, while LNCs may be called upon by legal teams to offer their expert opinions and serve as witnesses. Nurse attorneys have law degrees, while LNCs generally do not.
What Does a Nurse Attorney Do?
By combining nursing expertise with legal acumen, nurse attorneys help uphold high standards of patient care while navigating the intricate legal landscape within healthcare. Nurse attorneys use the nursing process to navigate this complex landscape. Here’s a glimpse into the responsibilities that define this role:
- Legal advocacy: Nurse attorneys may work with both patients and healthcare professionals. This might involve providing legal representation, offering guidance on healthcare laws and regulations, and ensuring that the rights of all parties are protected.
- Risk management: These professionals work closely with healthcare institutions to develop strategies for risk prevention and management. This includes reviewing policies, ensuring compliance with laws, and mitigating legal risks associated with patient care.
- Medical malpractice cases: Nurse attorneys may specialize in medical malpractice, investigating cases of alleged negligence or improper medical treatment. They may represent healthcare providers in defending against such claims or support patients seeking legal recourse.
- Policy development: Contributing to the creation and revision of healthcare policies is another key aspect of their role. Nurse lawyers help institutions stay current with evolving legal standards and industry best practices.
- Education and training: Nurse lawyers may engage in educating healthcare professionals on the legal aspects of their practice. This may include conducting training sessions, workshops, and providing resources to ensure a comprehensive understanding of legal implications.
- Ethical decision-making: They assist in ethical decision-making by providing guidance on challenging ethical dilemmas. Nurse attorneys contribute to maintaining a balance between providing quality patient care and adhering to legal and ethical standards.
- Regulatory compliance: Staying updated of changes in healthcare laws and regulations is crucial. Nurse attorneys ensure that healthcare organizations comply with state and federal laws.
Nurse Attorney Salary
The average salary for nurse attorneys is $98,330 per year. Your pay can differ depending on your experience, extra certifications, and the area you work in.
How to Become a Nurse Attorney
How long does it take to become a nurse attorney? If you don’t yet have a nursing license, going to nursing school typically takes two to four years, and law school can take three years or more to complete. You’ll also need to gain a few years of experience as a nurse, so completing these requirements can take seven years or more.
Below, you’ll find steps to become a nurse lawyer, starting with nursing school. The benefit to this approach is that nursing jobs are fairly flexible, and once you’re licensed you can gain experience while going to law school. Some attorney nurses take an alternative approach, gaining a law degree before going to nursing school. The two options would likely take a similar amount of time.
Step 1: Nursing School
Begin your journey by obtaining a nursing degree, which in this case should be a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN). While both ADN and BSN nurses can pursue a career as nurse attorneys, you’ll need a bachelor degree to enroll in law school. Nursing school establishes the foundational knowledge for nursing practice, covering essential courses such as ethics, anatomy and physiology, psychiatric nursing, and more.
Step 2: Pass the NCLEX-RN Exam
After graduating, you’ll need to pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Nurses (NCLEX-RN) to get your nursing license. Once you’re licensed, congratulations! You can start working as a new graduate nurse. Many nurses start out working in acute care, in areas such as med-surg, pediatrics, intensive care, and more. This hands-on experience is invaluable and forms the basis for understanding the healthcare system.
Step 3: Jurisprudence Degree
Next, enroll in a Juris Doctor (JD) program at a law school accredited by the American Bar Association (ABA). You’ll first need to take the law school admissions test (LSAT) to apply. Some aspiring nurse attorneys choose programs that offer flexible schedules or part-time options, allowing them to continue gaining nursing experience during law school.
On the other hand, some schools offer specialized programs for nurses who plan on also practicing law. The University of Pennsylvania, for example, allows BSN students to enroll in their law program while they’re still undergraduates. Other schools offer joint JD/MSN programs for specialized students. See the law schools in your area to understand your degree options.
Step 4: Pass the Bar Exam
Once you finish your law degree, you’ll need to pass the bar exam in the state where you intend to practice law. This step is essential to becoming a licensed attorney. Once you’ve passed, you can begin practicing, using your nursing background to work within healthcare settings or law firms specializing in healthcare cases.
Step 5: Continuing Education
Continuing your education in healthcare law and medicine will enhance your credibility and expertise in the field. Healthcare laws are dynamic and subject to change. Stay updated on legal developments by attending webinars and live conferences offered by The American Association of Nurse Attorneys (TAANA).
Find Nursing Opportunities
A nurse attorney is an essential advocate, much like you are when you care for patients. If you’re looking for a new career path, IntelyCare has options for you. Find out how we can match you with great nursing jobs in your specialty.