When you go to a healthcare provider to receive treatment, you probably say you are "going to the doctor." In reality, there is a good chance you are actually being seen by a nurse practitioner, or sometimes a physician's assistant. A 2012 study found that around 60,400 nurse practitioners work in primary care settings in the United States. The field of nursing is expanding, giving certain classifications of nurses additional responsibilities.
However, even nurses with the least amount of required education still have duties that make them directly responsible for patients' lives. If they don't take that seriously, very bad things can happen.
How Nurses Are Categorized
According to HowStuffWorks, nursing is generally categorized in three ways.
- Non-degree: Nurses who do not have a college degree are usually certified nursing assistants (CNA) or licensed practical nurses (LPN). CNAs must complete two months of instruction, while LPNs must take a yearlong program. CNAs typically work in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities. Because LPNs have more education, they tend to be more flexible in their work environments, practicing in hospitals, physician's offices, nursing homes, and sometimes in patients' homes.
- Degree: Nurses with an associate's or bachelor's degree make up most standard "nurses." They practice as registered nurses (RN). More and more students seeking RN certification are choosing to get their bachelor's degree because of the increased opportunities it provides. The majority of RNs work in hospitals (62.2%), but many work in clinics and other locations (American Nurses Association).
- Advanced degree: Nurse practitioners (NP) have more training-a master's degree-and therefore more responsibilities than RNs. Other advanced practice nurses (APN) work as clinical nurse leaders (CNL), clinical nurse specialists (CNS), certified nurse midwives (CNM), and certified nurse anesthetists (CRNA). Nurses with a doctoral degree often do research or work as healthcare executives, while some still see patients.
Because almost all of these positions involve caring for patients, such as taking vital signs or administering medicine, they can all be considered as responsible for care as a doctor. If an LPN neglects to administer an elderly patient's medicine and the patient is severely injured, the repercussions are as serious as if the patient's doctor had made the mistake.
When Nursing Care Goes Wrong
Nurses and doctors alike make devastating medical mistakes. Often, the stories reported in the news focus on nurses' neglect of patients, because of its cruel nature. Here are some of the worst cases:
- In October 2017, a nurse's aide in charge of monitoring an ailing veteran at a Veterans Affairs Center in Massachusetts failed to complete hourly checks on the patient, instead choosing to remain at her computer playing video games. The patient died. The patient's family is considering legal options (New York Post).
- In November 2017, a nurse failed to give an inmate at the Oklahoma County Jail medical care, instead performing an exorcism. The 67-year-old inmate was suffering from a seizure, and while she was thrashing, the nurse said, "I revoke you demons," rather than providing medical assistance. The patient died the next day. The nurse was banned from working at the jail and terminated, and may face criminal charges (Huffington Post).
- In late 2016, a man died after a nurse mistakenly believed that he did not want to be resuscitated in case of an emergency. When the man was found unresponsive after having bypass surgery, the nurse told other staff that the man had a do-not-resuscitate order, which was a mistake. While it is unclear whether resuscitation efforts would have saved the patient, not resuscitating cost him his life (WXYZ Detroit).
- In November 2017, three nursing employees were fired from Glencroft Senior Living facility in Glendale, Arizona. The nurses were caught on camera laughing at and neglecting to help an elderly patient asking for medication. (One posted the video on Snapchat.) The facility also reported the nurses' actions to the State Board of Nursing and the Arizona Department of Health Services, putting their nursing careers in jeopardy (ABC 15).
The examples above show extreme situations where nurses fail to do their jobs correctly. Nurses can and do get named in medical malpractice suits. In fact, according to medical information website Relias, malpractice claims against nurses are increasing, with more than $90 million paid in nurses' malpractice claims over a five-year period.
As a patient looking to receive competent and responsible care, it is important to note that all your healthcare providers play an important role, not just your doctor. If something goes wrong, your nurse can be held liable.
Have questions or suspect that nurse malpractice caused injury to you or a loved one? Speak to our Kansas City medical malpractice attorneys at (816) 607-4750. Your consultation is free.