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People are very familiar with the consequences of impersonating a police officer, but rarely is it thought that impersonating a nurse can carry significant legal ramifications as well. Patients may not understand the differences between the variety of professionals and vocational caregivers. Certified Nursing Assistants and Medical Assistants may routinely call themselves nurses to instill trust in the patient without the inconvenience of explaining their role in more detail.
Recently in the news, a residential living center failed to initiate CPR on an elderly resident. Although a 911 call was placed to respond to the emergency situation, the staff refused to provide first responder care. The person on the phone identified herself as a nurse. Much of the scrutiny regarding this incident involved the ethics of withholding CPR. However, the nursing community identified another issue. Was the person placing the call to 911 actually a nurse, or simply stating this as this is what she felt described her function? I was not able to confirm if this person was licensed as a nurse.
The American Nurse’s Association describes that it is the responsibility of each state to implement a nursing practice act that will define a scope of practice as well as define incompetency or unqualified nurses. In California, the Board of Registered Nursing states, “It is unlawful for any person or persons not licensed or certified as provided in this chapter to use the title ‘registered nurse,’ the letters ‘RN,’ or the words ‘graduate nurse,’ ‘trained nurse,’ or ‘nurse anesthetist.’ It is unlawful for any person or persons not licensed or certified as provided in this chapter to impersonate a professional nurse or pretend to be licensed to practice professional nursing as provided in this chapter.”
In some instances, our popular culture undermines the importance of a qualified, licensed nurse. The Daily Show with John Stewart (October, 2012) created a stir when he featured two Iraq War combat medics, both certified as Emergency Medical Technicians. Mr. Stewart read the qualifications of a Registered Nurse credentialed to provide care in the school setting, stating experience with “bruising and tummy aches” as a requirement. After comparing the experience by these war veterans, concluded that given their combat experience they should be qualified to act as a Registered Nurses. As significant as their experience may be, they are not equivalent to a Registered Nurse.
Of course impersonating a nurse may be done for nefarious reasons, such as obtaining access to narcotics. However, people have many seemingly innocent reasons. Some may feel that they are qualified through years of caring for loved ones, a desire to help, or the credibility. An interesting article by Amdall-Thompson in 2006 lists just a few cases where individuals represented themselves as nurses, sometimes for decades. Many were doing it for the career opportunity and higher pay. Regardless of the reason, the public have a right to be treated by licensed professionals as needed and not be duped.
Amdall-Thompson, M. Have you ever met a nurse impostor? Would you know if you did? Alternative Journal of Nursing, 2006;12.
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