Nurses fulfill many important responsibilities in providing patient care. This is especially true of nurse practitioners who are able to perform some of the services for patients which overlap with services performed by medical doctors. Nurses and nurse practitioners, however, must be careful to only provide patient assistance within the scope of their authority. If nurses appear to cross the line into providing medications or treatments, which should be provided only by licensed doctors, they can face disciplinary action.
Unfortunately, often there is a fine line between what nurses and nurse practitioners are allowed to do and what they are not allowed to do. Overzealous disciplinary boards may sometimes go after nurses and pursue actions against them even when no actual wrongdoing has taken place. Nurses must ensure they have professional legal advocates with experience in nursing license defense to help them whenever they are facing disciplinary action.
Nurse Cleared of Charges in Case Shows Confusion Regarding Dispensing Medicine
Chicago Tribune recently reported on one case in which a nurse practitioner was actually criminally indicted based upon accusations she had improperly administered medications to patients. The nurse practitioner ran a weight loss clinic and was accused of illegally issuing weight loss drugs to patients at the clinic by using a collaborative physician's agreement. Prosecutors argued patients were having only a cursory exam by a doctor and the nurse then churned out thousands of pills in a "pill mill."
Patients who had actually received treatments from the clinic vigorously spoke out against the accusations which were being made against the nurse, saying the accusations did not paint an accurate picture of the truth of the care they had received. One patient indicated the nurse practitioner had "saved my life."
Prosecutors presented extensive evidence about classifications of medicine, about licensing required for distribution of certain medications, and about the nurse's interactions with co-workers, pharmacists, nurses and doctors. While the case may have looked iron clad against the nurse on paper, however, the jury deliberated for only three hours- including a break for dinner- before returning a not guilty verdict.
Unfortunately, as the Tribune indicates, "the case boiled down to state laws that are confusing to say the least." These state laws related to licensing necessary to dispense medications. The laws could be interpreted in different ways. Confusing laws related to what nurse practitioners can do are not unique to the state where this clinic was located (Indiana), as there are complexities in laws in states nationwide related to duties of nurse practitioners.
While the nurse was ultimately vindicated in this case, her clinic lost as many as 90 percent of her patients during the ordeal. Many other nurses may face criminal cases or licensing disciplinary actions as a result of confusing laws and competing interpretations about the scope of their role. Nurses need to ensure they defend themselves vigorously so they can protect their careers and ability to help patients when accusations of wrongdoing are made.