Should I Become a Legal Nurse?
|Degree Level||Associate's degree in nursing; legal nursing certificate|
|Licensing/Certification||Registered nurses need to pass a licensing exam; voluntary legal nurse certification is available|
|Experience||Experience working as a registered nurse is required|
|Key Skills||Strong communication and research skills; ability to handle stressful situations; very detail-oriented|
|Salary (2015)||$72,510 (2016 median for all legal nurse consultants)|
Legal nurses often work as consultants and help law firms with medically-related cases. Working as a legal nurse requires individuals to act as expert witnesses during a trial or deposition, offering their opinion on medical cases. They also perform research and look over patient files.
While registered nurses (RNs) work in medical care settings, such as hospitals, legal nurses may be employed by insurance companies, law firms, or consulting services instead of or in addition to their work as medical providers. Generally, RNs work irregular schedules that might include evenings, nights, and/or weekends. Legal nurses might enjoy more structured schedules during regular business hours. Some travel might be required to courthouses or to meet with patients on particular cases.
Legal nurses need strong communication and research skills and the ability to handle stressful situations. They also must be very detail-oriented. According to Payscale.com, legal nurse consultants earned a median annual salary of $72,510, as of January 2016.
Complete a Nursing Degree Program
Step 1: Complete a nursing degree program. Becoming a registered nurse is the starting point for working as a legal nurse. An associate's or bachelor's degree program in nursing can prepare a student for licensure as an RN. Associate's degree programs take approximately two years to complete and are offered through community colleges. Four-year bachelor's degree programs might offer additional communication and critical thinking courses, which can prove valuable in this field, as well as specialized electives. Science, health, and lab courses, as well as intensive clinical practice, are included in nursing curricula.
While in school, students usually gain nursing experience through an internship. This is an opportunity to work and learn under the supervision of a current registered nurse.
Step 2: Obtain licensure. Registered nurses are required to be licensed by their state, though requirements vary. In general, individuals must complete an accredited nursing degree program and pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN).
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Gain Work Experience
Step 3: Gain work experience. A significant part of training to become a legal nurse is building real-life experience as a registered nurse. The majority of registered nurses work in hospitals, although they can also work in clinics, physicians' offices, and nursing home facilities. Many legal nurse training programs require a minimum number of years of work experience.
Complete a Certificate Program
Step 4: Complete a certificate program. Legal nurse consultant certificate programs are offered through college and university law or nursing schools, as well as continuing education departments. Typically, entry to these programs requires being a licensed RN and having work experience. RNs learn to apply their professional expertise while exploring legal topics, such as the review and analyses of medical records, basic and tort law, civil procedures, and legal writing and research. Many certificate programs also include courses that provide students with information on marketing or promoting a business as a legal nurse consultant.
Prospective legal nurses might opt to participate in an internship with a law firm to gain experience in the field. This is an opportunity to learn how to analyze cases and interpret medical information in a professional setting.
Step 5: Get certified. Becoming a legal nurse consultant certified (LNCC) is voluntary, but many nurse consultants become certified to advance their careers or enhance their professional standing. The American Legal Nurse Consultant Certification Board oversees the certification exam. Qualifications include a current registered nursing license, a minimum of five years of RN experience, and proof of 2,000 hours of experience in legal nurse consulting.
The legal nurse consultant exam tests on topics including the ability to collect, investigate, and analyze records and other information; communicate with clients and testify in court; and educate others on issues relating to healthcare and the health sciences. To remain certified, legal nurses must maintain their current RN license, have 2,000 hours of experience within five years, and pass the exam or complete 60 contact hours.
In summary, an aspiring legal nurse must complete an undergraduate nursing program, obtain licensure, and gain work experience as a registered nurse, and attain a certificate in legal nursing. Certification in legal nursing is voluntary.