Are You Up-to-Date on Your Nursing Laws?

Given the pace of advances in medical knowledge and technology over the last fifty years, it can sometimes be hard just to keep up with expanding clinical requirements, let alone anything else. And yet that is exactly why you must make time to keep up with nursing law.

Despite having carved out a distinct role on the healthcare team, nurses still face pressure from other healthcare providers and from management to stretch the boundaries of practice. Factor in increasing technical competency demands, an acute and growing shortage of qualified nurses with rising competition for those available, crescive opportunities for individual and professional mobility, multi-state licensure, plus ever-expanding roles and scopes of practice, and the need to stay current becomes acute.

January and July are two of the most popular months for new state laws to take effect. They are also excellent times for RNs to check in with their state to see what new statutes, regulations, guidelines and position statements are out.

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www.ncsbn.org

The easiest way to do this is to check the board of nursing website for each state you are licensed in. The fastest way to do that is by going to the National Council of State Boards of Nursing at www.ncsbn.org. From the home page, you can find and click on the link to each state or territory you are interested in. You can also link to every Canadian province’s board and the national boards of Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland and Bermuda, if you are interested.

Each state or territory’s page is set up a little differently but at a minimum you can find:

  1. The board’s location and contact information;
  2. Who is on the board and when the next meetings are scheduled (meetings are generally open to the public and I encourage you to go to one to watch the proceedings);
  3. A copy of or a link to the current Nurse Practice Act and any other statutes that impact nursing practice in that state;
  4. A copy of or a link to the regulations that govern nursing practice, and
  5. Information and forms for licensure.

Many states also post a list of accredited nursing schools in the jurisdiction and their overall licensing exam pass rate, a link that allows the visitor to verify a nurse’s license, standing and whether he or she has been disciplined, a link to a form or information on how to file a complaint against a nurse, and information or statistics about recent or significant disciplinary actions, particularly names of those with suspended or revoked licenses.

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A number of states and the National Council itself post invaluable information such as declaratory rulings or opinion letters on questions of practice, a statement on the scope of practice in the jurisdiction, guidelines and position statements on specific procedures or activities, and ethical guides. Some states also have adopted national organization recommendations and provided algorithms or decision trees, sample policies and links to useful articles – Rhode Island, for example, has several very helpful decision trees you can download.

www.nursingworld.org

In addition, state and national nursing associations, such as the American Nurses Association (www.nursingworld.org), work closely with state and national legislatures and other professional organizations to appropriately expand nursing roles and develop guidelines for safe practice. The ANA site has pages on continuing education, licensure issues, ethics, public policy and position statements. You can also link to your state nursing association from ANA’s site.

Specialty nursing associations are another resource for guidance on nurse practice issues. Dozens of organizations at the state, national and international level can provide a wealth of information in easy-to-access format to help you stay current not just on clinical knowledge but on the legal aspects that shape your practice today and will continue to inform it in years to come.

So, put it on your calendar – check your state board of nursing site at least twice a year. You’ll practice more safely and confidently for it!

BJ Strickland

Beth J. (“BJ”) Strickland is from Tennessee. She is an RN with Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in nursing and a Master’s degree in history from Vanderbilt University. She is also a licensed attorney with her Juris Doctor degree from the University of Tennessee. She has practiced nursing since 1976 and has experience in clinical nursing, administration and teaching in several clinical areas. She has practiced law in state and federal courts in Tennessee since 1996 with an interest in healthcare risk management, employment law and medical malpractice. She retired from the U.S. Army in 2015 as a Lieutenant Colonel. This article is not legal advice. It is offered only as information about nursing topics of interest. If you have legal questions, please speak with a licensed attorney in your area. Neither the author or the website publisher are responsible for any actions a reader may take based on material in this article or on this website.

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