Carolyn Buppert, MSN, JD


October 02, 2015

In This Article

Reasons Nurses Went to Law School

Some nurse-attorneys chose law school because they were impressed by attorneys they encountered; others were looking to expand their career options, and some were dissatisfied with nursing.

"I had been a nurse for 4 years and was about halfway through my master's degree when I realized that I did not want to pursue nursing as a career," said Joanne P. Hopkins, who has her own practice in Austin, Texas. "I finished my master's but tried to think of a profession that would not require me to go back to undergraduate school. I took the Law School Admission Test one weekend in 1978 and did reasonably well, so I applied to every law school in the state of Texas and got in."

"I received my master's degree from the University of California, Los Angeles, and was working as a unit manager," said Lorie A. Brown, RN, MN, JD, of Brown Law Office PC, in Indianapolis. "I was going through a divorce and I had a good divorce attorney, so I decided to go to law school. It was truly on a whim."

"I graduated from high school in the late 1960s, right at the beginning years of the feminist movement," said Kathleen Kettles, of counsel at Wingate, Russotti, Shapiro & Halperin, LLP, in New York. "I never thought that I could be anything but a teacher, nurse, social worker, secretary, or housewife. I graduated from nursing school in the early 1970s and worked for 10 years before I started law school in 1984."

Kettles continued, "Nursing taught me so much about life, death, and what is truly important in this world, and I wouldn't be the attorney I am without it. But I realized by the late 1970s that I was just as intelligent as any physician and that I could do something more educationally if I wanted it. I had started graduate school in nursing and then switched to psychology, thinking I would be a psychologist. At that time, I was a codirector of a day treatment program for mentally ill adolescents and adults, and I often had to go to court to advocate for them or because they were denied Social Security."

"Nursing never seemed to fit, and I found myself changing jobs frequently because I was not satisfied," said Taralynn R. Mackay, RN, JD, of McDonald, Mackay, Porter & Weitz, LLP in Elgin, Texas. "I took skills and aptitude tests, and the results showed that my interest was in the field of law. I decided to give it a try and have not regretted it. I found that law allowed me to advocate for nursing in a way I never could before.

"My original goal was to go to medical school," said Nina R. Messina, managing attorney at Messina, Lalafarian, Mendel & Ryan in Glendale, California, who has been in law practice (primarily insurance defense) for 35 years. "I am an 'old-fashioned diploma-school RN' and worked in nursing for nearly 10 years in various areas—labor and delivery supervisor, critical care head nurse, IV team, and evening house supervisor. I loved nursing and I really wanted to go to medical school. Law had never crossed my mind. However, on one occasion, I went to a nursing continuing education seminar conducted by a woman lawyer who worked for the California Nurses Association. The subject of her seminar was nursing malpractice, and she cited cases and case law. At that time (late 1960s, early 1970s), there was not much emphasis on nursing malpractice, nor on malpractice insurance, especially for hospital-based nurses."

"What impressed me the most was the enthusiasm with which this woman spoke to us," Messina continued. "It was obvious that she loved nursing, although she was not a nurse. It occurred to me how much more impressive her lecture would have been had she shared with us the fact that she was also a nurse and could really identify with us. Nevertheless, she was very dynamic and impressed me a great deal so that, for the first time, the notion of a becoming a nurse-attorney crossed my mind. I didn't forget my desire to go to medical school. However, in those years, it was more difficult for women to get into medical school. Although I didn't know any lawyers at the time, I made up my mind that I would go to law school, because the number of schooling years would be less, and I had always had an interest in governmental/constitutional issues."


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