Carolyn Buppert, MSN, JD

Disclosures

October 02, 2015

In This Article

After Graduation From Law School

Nurses who became attorneys are working in administrative law (interpreting regulations and representing clients before administrative law judges), litigating medical malpractice and insurance cases, providing professional license defense, advising healthcare entities about Medicare compliance, providing legal support for peer-review operations, and acting as corporate counsel for hospitals. Other career paths for nurse-attorneys are business development for medical centers, arbitration of healthcare disputes, counsel to Boards of Nursing and state health departments, teaching positions, and government investigations. You can find a chart of selected career paths for nurse attorneys here.

Here is what some attorneys experienced after graduation:

"When I graduated, I thought I would be very valuable as a nurse-attorney because of my medical knowledge," said Lorie Brown. "But I found that most attorneys did not know what a nurse-attorney was or the value that they brought. I did medical malpractice defense for several years and then started my own medical legal consulting company. I wanted to be present for my kids and have the freedom and flexibility with my schedule. Now, I primarily represent healthcare providers before the licensing board. I also have an organization called EmpoweredNurses.org, where I teach nurses how to speak their minds and become change agents to improve patient care. I also teach nurses a system with which they can protect their licenses."

"One striking thing I remember in the early years was clients telling me that they could tell that I had a clinical background from my advice and in my writing," said Joanne Hopkins. "Being a nurse gave me an understanding of the realities of the setting and operations I was dealing with and enabled me to put a practical side to my legal advice. There is a significant amount of detail work and counseling to the practice of law, both of which exist in the practice of nursing."

Hopkins continued, "I went with Fulbright & Jaworski's health law section on graduation. I practiced medical malpractice and administrative health law for about 3 years, tried one lawsuit (and lost 5 pounds in 4 days), and transitioned full-time to administrative health law. I went with another law firm after 9 years, which was wonderful, and then in 1999, I went out on my own so I could spend more time practicing law, keep my rates down, and have flexibility with my kids. I limited my practice to hospital operational work, such as hospital-medical staff relationships, Medicare compliance, informed consent, nursing peer review—areas I could do myself."

"My first legal job was working as an administrative lawyer for the Texas Medical Board," said Taralynn Mackay. "I did not have a clue what administrative law was when I was hired. I lucked out with my timing and worked with a great group of people. From there, I transitioned into private practice as an administrative defense lawyer representing various healthcare professionals, and after a year, I switched to representing only nurses. I have been doing the same thing for over 18 years. I practice no other area of law, and I only represent nurses."

"I found my true calling as an advocate," said Kathleen Kettles. "Today, I have been a plaintiff's medical malpractice attorney for 28 years. It has given me the financial means to have a good life and, more important, to help people who cannot help themselves who truly need my assistance. I have helped to make life better for severely disabled children and their families, to provide the financial support to a family who lost the breadwinner to a missed diagnosis of cancer, and to help rehabilitate and support people who suffered serious injuries as a result of medical malpractice. There are many more examples. One thing I know for sure: It was necessary for me to be a nurse first to be an advocate for patients as an attorney."

"I practice in a law firm with about 200 attorneys in several states," said Janet K. Feldkamp, RN, BSN, LNHA, CHC, JD, a partner at Benesch Friedlander Coplan & Aronoff, LLP, in Columbus, Ohio. "I love what I do and believe that healthcare will continue to be an expanding area of law. My unique experience as a nurse has driven my law practice. During my years of nursing, I worked in the long-term care area following several years in critical care. I had experience on the state regulatory side, not-for-profit provider side, and for-profit provider side. I was a director of nursing and administrator in long-term care before becoming a vice president for clinical care in a multistate management company. This background is used every day in my legal practice representing post-acute care providers: nursing homes, assisted living, senior housing, and home health and hospice providers. I believe that our experience in nursing and in healthcare provide us with skills that other attorneys do not have."

"Like the others, I sought my law degree as a way to advocate for others," said Pamela Chambers, MSN, CRNA, EJD, a medical-legal consultant and certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA) in Georgetown, Texas. "In my field, most of the CRNAs obtain their doctorates via online programs, because that's really all we have time for with our 24/7 roles. I didn't want to try cases; I wanted to help keep healthcare providers out of court. As it has evolved, I've become an expert witness and legal consultant in perioperative anesthesia and nursing. I work with plaintiffs and defendants. I love the advocacy that I'm able to do in this role. And I look forward to doing more as my anesthesia career winds down."

"I was fortunate to have been offered an externship at Farmers Insurance Exchange and their subsidiary, Truck Insurance Exchange, which insured most of the hospitals in Southern California for professional liability," said Nina Messina. "Farmers Insurance then hired me, and that's how I got my feet wet in the insurance defense/hospital defense area. Although I expanded into general insurance defense and eventually formed my own firm, my nursing background has been a constant companion in that I continuously review medical records, conduct depositions of medical experts, and deal with medically related issues, et cetera, in the defense of personal injury actions."

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