Nursing and The Law

    When Nursing Professor Susan Westrick first became a nurse, she found that legal issues frequently made their way into the medical field. As a practicing nurse, she became more and more interested in the legal and ethical issues related to nursing and healthcare and, eventually wanting to bring law into her nursing practice, she decided to go to law school. Westrick earned a law degree from Quinnipiac Law School and became a nurse attorney, and now has extensive experience in nursing practice and education as well as private law practice.

    Westrick recently published a second edition of her textbook, “Essentials of Nursing Law and Ethics,” a book she originally wrote when “only a few people were writing about this.” Aimed at nursing students in pre-licensure educational programs, the book is also a useful reference for practicing nurses. Westrick intends the book to “serve as an evidence-based guide for legally and ethically sound nursing practice,” she says, explaining that “nurses are involved daily in law and ethics in their practice.”

    The second edition of Westrick’s book reflects the changing nature of its subject matter. The book is divided into five parts: the law and nursing practice, liability in patient care, documentation issues, employment and the workplace, and ethics. Elements that are new in the second edition include material on patient advocacy, professional boundaries with regard to social media, environmental health and safety, staffing challenges, and other relevant topics. “Quality and safety are driving nursing practice right now,” she says, and “boundaries are an important issue with patients.”

    One of the unique things Westrick did in this book, she says, was to include actual law cases in each of the chapters. “This makes the book come to life for students,” she says. “They see actual nurses involved in real situations.”

    The book also provides an online resource for students and faculty: it includes an online access code to a companion website that contains materials for students such as an interactive glossary of legal terms and review questions, as well as supporting materials for faculty such as answers to review questions and a test bank. Westrick says hers is the only textbook of its kind on the market that has a test bank and rationales for the instructors.

    As a professor, Westrick is well equipped to write a textbook that serves students’ needs. With nursing specialties in pediatric and adult health, Westrick teaches law and ethics to undergraduate nursing students and a course on healthcare law at the graduate level. “I bring law into all of my courses,” she says, and in fact consults on cases involving medical legal issues. She has served as an expert witness in malpractice cases involving the standard of care and the nurse’s duty to advocate for patients and to follow the chain of command, and she is a frequent author and presenter on legal and nursing education issues. She is also a past president and board member of CT TAANA (Connecticut Chapter of The American Association of Nurse Attorneys).