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HealthJune 11, 2015

Legal issues facing clinical nurse educators

What kinds of legal issues can often face today's clinical nurse educators?

Did you know that a clinical nurse educator may be found liable for providing inadequate supervision of a student? Or, for failing to meet standards of care followed by peers in similar situations? Did you know an educator could be held liable if a patient becomes injured by a student and the injury was foreseeable? These are just a few of the legal issues that face clinical nurse educators daily.

What are the legal implications?

Typically, when legal action is taken against a clinical nurse educator it’s done under tort law; civil law that handles wrongs committed by one individual against another. Negligence toward the patient is the most common tort law action taken against nurses. Negligence occurs when a patient is harmed as a result of a nurse’s failure to do what a reasonable nurse would do in the same situation. Legal action can also be taken against a clinical nurse educator for harm caused by a student. Three key components must exist for legal action to be taken against a clinical nurse educator for patient harm caused by a student, they include:

  • A responsibility to the patient of the accused student while under the supervision of the clinical nurse educator.
  • A violation of the responsibility by the accused student and the clinical nurse educator neglects to follow the standards other clinical nurse educators would adhere to in the same situation.
  • Patient harm as a consequence of the nurse educator’s failure to perform according to standard.

So what can a clinical nurse educator do to protect against liability?

To protect against liability, the clinical nurse educator should:

  • Understand the Nurse Practice Act in the state of employment; the nurse practice act may be presented in court as the standard of practice. Know the scope of practice, legal definitions, and requirements of the clinical nurse educator and nursing students.
  • Be familiar with current standards of practice; particularly those surrounding the specialty area of practice. For example, the critical care clinical nurse educator should be familiar with the current American Association of Critical-Care Nurses standards of practice and their evidence-based guidelines. The clinical nurse educator should teach students about the expected standards in the particular specialty area.
  • Make sure the student has been adequately prepared to perform a task before the student performs it. Depending on the state’s Nurse Practice Act, the student may be considered an unlicensed provider; so any task the student performs is considered a delegated task. If the student has been adequately trained to do the delegated task the clinical nurse educator can’t be held liable for an error committed by the student. When accepting the task, the student has an obligation to determine whether he or she possesses the necessary competence to perform the task.
  • Properly train and supervise students to prevent workplace injuries; a clinical nurse educator can be held liable, if a student wasn’t properly trained or supervised and consequently suffers a workplace injury.
  • Develop good relationships with other nurses on the clinical area. Good relationships facilitate communication with staff nurses who are more apt to report unsafe practices by the student; prompt recognition and intervention reduces the risk for patient harm.

Many legal issues exist for the clinical nurse educator, but practicing according to standard greatly reduces the legal risks. Maintain focus on patient and student safety; it’s the key to avoiding legal pitfalls.

What legal challenges have clinical nurse educators faced in your facility? What’s been learned from the situations? What advice would you give to other clinical nurse educators?

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