The Intersection of Nursing and the Law (Podcast)

When potential legal issues arise, it’s best to speak up, ask for help and be transparent

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If you work in healthcare long enough, you’ll likely interact with the legal department at some point in your career. While that’s a daunting thought, Marilyn Crisafi, BSN, RN, JD reminds nurses that the legal department and caregivers share the same goal – to make sure the health system is providing safe, world-class care.

With a background in both nursing and law, Crisafi offers a unique perspective on legal issues in nursing. After working as a critical care nurse for seven years, she became a lawyer and, for a time, defended hospitals and nurses. In 2019, she returned to healthcare as a behavioral health float nurse at Cleveland Clinic Lutheran Hospital.

In a recent episode of Cleveland Clinic’s Nurse Essentials podcast, Crisafi shares her thoughts on legal aspects of nursing, including:

  • The importance of speaking up and being transparent when mistakes are made at the bedside
  • Potential pitfalls for new and experienced nurses
  • Safety event reporting system (SERS) events, forced treatment and other challenging situations
  • Why documentation matters, and advice for thorough notes

Click the podcast player above to listen to the episode now, or read on for a short edited excerpt. Check out more Nurse Essentials episodes at or wherever you get your podcasts.

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Podcast excerpt

Podcast host Carol Pehotsky, DNP, RN, NEA-BC: What advice do you have for especially a new nurse that says, “Well, what can I do to ‘protect’ my license or to protect myself?”

Crisafi: The best protection is good nursing care. If you come to work, you’ve had your breakfast or dinner if you’re a night shift nurse, you’re well hydrated, you’re well rested, you come in, you’re ready to do your work, you’re going to do a good job 90% of the time. There’s always those 10% of unpredictable situations. So, let’s talk about the 90%.

If you come in – and the Clinic hires well-educated, well-rounded nurses – and you’re ready to go, you’re going to have a good day if you follow standard of care, use your policies, ask if you don’t know. If you’re a new nurse, stake out your most experienced nurse that shift if you have a question so you know where to go. But if you have a question, ask.

And if you find that medication errors happen, it’s part of life. If you find you’ve made a medication error, don’t hide it. Go to that go-to person right away: “I was supposed to give a unit of insulin. I gave two. What do I do?” And they’ll talk you through what to do. If it’s something more severe – you need to call a rapid or a code or whatever – you do that.

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Because remember, our first obligation is to the patient. And while we might be scared or frightened or whatever our first inclination is, patient care has to come first. Or even if you are frightened, doing the wrong thing isn’t going to make that any better in the long run.

So, we do the best we can. We ask for help. If things go wrong, there are steps we take to remedy that and to document it so that we can learn from it.