Nursing can introduce professionals to many different career paths and industries, including law. The American Association of Nurse Attorneys (TANAA) defines nurse attorneys as professionals "licensed to practice both nursing and law."
Johnson & Johnson provides another definition: "A nurse attorney represents medical professionals in court, or works to change policies within the healthcare system." Nurse attorneys take on the important role of defending nurses and other healthcare professionals in malpractice cases, but they also fulfill many other responsibilities. These professionals hold degrees and licensure in both nursing and law.
This page gives an overview of what nurse attorneys do, how to become a nurse attorney, and what to expect in terms of salary and employment. You can also gain insight into this profession through an interview with a practicing nurse attorney.
Q&A With a Nurse Attorney
Lorie A. Brown, RN, MN, JD
Lorie A. Brown, RN, MN, JD, has a passion for supporting nurses. She is truly a nurse for nurses. She obtained her law degree from Indiana University in 1990. Lorie founded Brown Law Office, P.C. in 1999 and began working as a legal nurse consultant and representing nurses and other healthcare providers before licensing boards. She also mentors nurses on how to start their own businesses. Lorie has authored three books, "Law and Order for Nurses: The Easy Way to Protect Your License and Your Livelihood," "From Frustrated to Fulfilled: The Empowered Nurses System," and "The Legal Nurse Consultant's Workbook: Turning Your Nursing Knowledge into a Successful Consulting Practice." She has two weekly blogs, Your Nurse Attorney and Empowered Nurses.
Q: What are the requirements for becoming a nurse attorney?
A nurse attorney holds dual degrees: a registered nurse license with some type of bachelor degree and a juris doctorate, usually with a license to practice law.
Q: What drew you to a career at the intersection of healthcare and law? When in your nursing career did you decide this was something you were interested in doing?
I had no intention of becoming a lawyer. I had obtained a master's in nursing and thought about getting my doctorate in nursing, but I really did not want to teach. At that time, I was going through a divorce and had a great divorce attorney and thought, "I can do this!" So, here I am.
Q: What is the profile of a typical client you might work with?
I work with nurses who are in or could be in trouble with the nursing board, or nurses with potential issues against their nursing license.
Q: What are some of the greatest challenges and rewards of this type of work?
These matters take so long before the board and can be difficult. Nurses who make a one-time mistake get in trouble, and resolution becomes a permanent record, where any future employer can find out about previous discipline.
Q: What does the educational pathway look like? Is it more typical for nurse attorneys to start in the medical or legal field?
The nurse needs to first obtain a bachelor's degree, then take the LSAT (law school admission test), apply to law school, be admitted, successfully graduate, and then pass the bar exam to become licensed.
Q: What advice would you give to nurses considering this pathway?
Get some nursing experience under your belt. Check out the American Association of Nurse Attorneys (TAANA.org).
What Does a Nurse Attorney Do?
Nurse attorneys use their experience to practice law in healthcare related contexts. They find employment in both legal and health settings, sometimes becoming attorneys at legal firms and other times working directly for healthcare providers.
Nursing law ecompasses many different roles and responsibilities, including representation of nurses and other health workers in court. Patients or other entities sometimes serve healthcare professionals with malpractice suits, and nurse attorneys may attend these professionals in court.
Additionally, nurse attorneys might use their knowledge and experience to serve as expert witnesses during trials. Nurse lawyers also take on duties outside the courtroom. They might focus on paperwork, reviewing medical records and data, and analyzing personal injury or insurance claims.
Nurses who obtain their law degree can follow several alternative career paths. Working for healthcare organizations, they may consult with clinical staff on risk management issues and other legal considerations. Some go into academia, working at colleges and universities as professors. This career usually involves contributing to law journals and publishing research. Still other nurse lawyers might prefer to go into government, professional associations, or lobbying groups, focusing on medical regulations and policy.
How to Become a Nurse Attorney
Aspiring nurse attorneys must obtain both nursing and law degrees. They should possess at least a four-year bachelor of science of nursing (BSN), although some go on to earn a two-year master of science of nursing (MSN). Nurse attorneys need a juris doctor (JD) in law, which usually takes three years to earn. Registered nurses with an associate degree cannot enroll in JD programs; instead, they need to complete an RN-to-BSN or RN-to-MSN program first.
Nurse lawyers who pursue all three degrees -- a BSN, MSN, and JD -- may require nine years of higher education, while those with a BSN and JD only spend seven years in postsecondary education. Keep in mind, nurse attorneys are distinct from legal nurse consultants, who do not require a legal degree.
Nurse attorneys need both RN licensure and a law license to practice. They must take the NCLEX nursing exam and the LSAT law exam after completing their respective degrees to obtain these credentials. Requirements for licensure vary by state, as do licensure renewal requirements. Nurse attorneys may need to participate in continuing education or practice a certain number of hours in order to renew their licenses. Aspiring professionals should check with their state boards of licensure for specific rules.
Salary for Nurse Attorneys
Tracking down reliable data for nurse lawyer salaries and employment numbers can prove difficult, as the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not offer specific data for nurse attorneys.
The BLS does, however, provide data for nurses and attorneys as separate careers. Registered nurses earn a median annual salary of $73,300, which varies due to factors like location and experience level. The BLS also projects that the number of nurses may increase by 7% from 2019-29. Lawyers make a median annual salary of $122,960, and BLS figures project employment growth for lawyers up 4% in that same decade.
Nurse attorneys can expect their salaries to fall within that range but may align more closely with salary figures for lawyers. Since nurse attorneys can choose either to work for law firms or in healthcare settings, their salary largely depends on their chosen industry and employer.
For those who go into academia, professors earn an annual median salary of $79,540, according to the BLS. PayScale data shows legal nurse consultants and healthcare consultants make an average salary of about $78,000.
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