Learn About Becoming a Legal Nurse Consultant

If you are professional nurse who is exhausted with twelve-hour shifts and weekends on call, and who hasn't spent a holiday at home in years, the independent self-made schedule of a legal nurse consultant may appeal to you. Registered nurses have a plethora of specialty areas to choose from, including the legal arena. Attorneys have been using medical professionals, such as doctors and nurses, for decades to help decipher medical-legal cases involving personal injury, malpractice, negligence, and health laws. These nurses are not practicing law; they are working in a highly specialized capacity, channeling years of patient care and experience at work for either the plaintiff or defendant.

Although the American Bar Association lumps legal nurse consultants in with paralegals, the careers are not one and the same. For one, legal nurses are registered nurses, not trained legal assistants. While some of the career duties, such as writing reports and chart reviews, may overlap, the paralegal does not usually have the extensive medical experience of a nurse. The paralegal cannot educate the attorney, law firm, or business on the validity of claims, medical terms, or the nursing components of a case.

Most legal nurses work independently, contracting their time and services to law firms, businesses, or individual attorneys as needed. Optimally, these nurses can work as telecommuters and complete most of their work from home. They can also decide how many cases they want to take on at one time. Some nurses may work full time within a large firm that specializes in personal injury or negligence cases. Legal nurses may hold positions within a hospital in the quality assurance department. If you are looking to start your own business as an LNC, you may have to keep your day job while business picks up. There are even certified legal nurse consultants that assist in cases in their spare time for extra income or for the stimulation of the work.

An unrestricted, active registered nursing license is required for this profession. Vocational and practical nurses, known as LPNs or LVNs, cannot fulfill the requirements for a legal nurse consultant. If you are not an RN, there are myriad ways to approach this career. Choose from a diploma, associate in science of nursing, or bachelors of Science in nursing. Diploma and associate degree nursing programs usually take just over two years to complete, whereas a bachelor's will take approximately four. Although a bachelor's degree may increase your marketability with the law firms, it is not required for consulting. Upon graduation from a nursing program or a transitional program for LPN and LVNs, you will need to take the N-CLEX examination for your RN licensure.

This career choice is highly competitive. Although experience is not required for practice, it is required for credentialing as a consultant. Furthermore, attorneys and prospective employers need a nurse with experience; otherwise their opinions, either when on the witness stand or reviewing medical charts for accuracy, will lack credibility. Nurses with a background in the emergency room, intensive care unit, and case management are invaluable to attorneys due to the high number of medical cases that originate in these units.

Certification courses and credentialing are optional for legal nurse consultants. You do not need any formalized training for this profession; however, it may be of benefit and give you an edge over your peers. Community colleges, universities, and for-profit organizations offer legal nurse consultant certification programs, some of which are found in the online learning format. If you have never conducted research, written reports, reviewed medical records, or sat as an expert witness, it would be prudent to take a course on legal nursing before starting this career. The programs will provide education on the legal process and jargon that may be foreign to most RNs. Most certification courses result in a certificate upon completion, which may include designated credentials that you can use behind your RN title. The Certified Legal Nurse Consultant program, for example, is a certificate course that results in the CLNC designator upon passing the final exam.

The American Association of Legal Nurse Consultants is the only non-profit organization offering recognized credentialing to legal nurses, as recognized by the American Board of Nursing Specialties. This test is not for beginners; it is to credential experienced legal nurses, with the Legal Nurse Consultant Certified - LNCC - credential used following the title of RN. Experience within the field of legal nursing, as well as proof of said experience, is required for exam eligibility. This credential must be renewed with active practice within the field and continuing education hours.

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