Legal Nurse Consultant: Using Nursing Skills in a New Way

By: Adam Sanford

Attorneys are trained in the law and how to prosecute or defend. When it comes to medical related cases they frequently seek the assistance of a Legal Nurse Consultant to decipher the subtleties in medical records and help understand the nuances of health care systems. This is not a new area of nursing. Over the years Nurses have been asked by attorneys to review medical records and related documents to help them understand the most effective way to present the information.

Legal Nurse Consulting has become a new career path for a growing number of Registered Nurses. Becky Czarnik, RN, MS, CLNC is a Certified Legal Nurse Consultant and is owner of Sierra Nurse Consultants, LLC (www.sierranurse.com) in Reno, NV. She opened her business in 2008 and offers a wide range of Legal Nurse Consulting services. I recently requested an interview with Becky in order to better understand this area of nursing and to reinforce with other Nurses the career diversity in the nursing profession. She was kind enough to oblige and share her story.

Tell me about your path to becoming an RN. Did you know you wanted to become a nurse when you were a kid? What educational path did you take?

When I was in High School, the options given to young women were “traditional” female occupations, teaching, nursing, secretarial or library services. I really wanted to be a teacher but there was a “baby bust” and the outlook for teaching was really poor. Both my mom and grandmother were nurses so it seemed to make some sense for me to look to nursing. I was told that if I wanted to teach, I could always teach in a nursing school and for that I would need a bachelor’s degree (St. Olaf College, MN). Little did I know how much nurses teach on a daily basis! To make sure that nursing would be a good fit for me, I worked as a nursing assistant in a Nursing Home (for $2/hour) and as a ward (unit) secretary while in high school. I credit my skill at reading difficult handwriting to my summers as the unit secretary on a busy neurology unit.

I started my clinical career on a step down cardiac (telemetry) and diabetic unit. I was enthralled with how quickly a patient could move from an acute state to a recovery state (or back again) and my clinical assessment skills made a difference in that continuum of healing. An opening was available in critical care and I became hooked on the adrenaline rush and balancing act of both the intensive care and the cardiac care unit. As a result of moving around the county, I was fortunate to practice in rural, suburban and urban hospitals. In each setting, I realized that I needed to better educate myself to be a better clinician to be a better advocate for patient care. I’m proud that I received my certification in Critical Care Nursing from the AACN; it felt like I finally figured out all the clinical pieces and could put them into practice.

What specialization is your Master’s in Nursing?

I had the opportunity to get my Masters in Nursing from The Ohio State University; at the time I wanted to combine my clinical skills in critical care with either teaching or program development. I ended up doing clinical research, developed a cardiac rehab program and put the pieces in place to have the hospital where I worked designated as a Level 1 trauma center. As a result of the program development aspects of my job, I ended up moving into administrative positions and ended up running several Home Care agencies. Overall, my career path is typical in nursing. I was receptive to opportunities in clinical, education and administrative arenas, each position building on the experience and expertise of the previous one.

Tell me how you got interested in Legal Nurse Consulting?

Early in my career, I was asked to review a medical record where gross negligence occurred and was able to identify a variety of issues that the attorney didn’t know about. I was then able to educate him on not only why there was a problem but also the cascade of events that could have led to the problem. It felt like a great way to combine my nursing skills/education/experience to be an advocate for the patient.

What is the education and certification process needed to become a CLNC?

I chose to go through an intensive continuing education course to become a Certified Legal Nurse. While there are other programs available where one can get basic knowledge, I felt that if I was going to make a business and career move, I wanted to get my certification to demonstrate my competence in this new area of expertise.

A Certified Legal Nurse Consultant (CLNC ®) is a registered nurse who has successfully mastered the rigorous CLNC® Certification program developed by a company that pioneered the field of legal nurse consulting. (www.legalnurse.com)

What are some of the focal points of Legal Nurse Consulting?

The Certified Legal Nurse Consultant has the expertise to quickly pinpoint and interpret medical and nursing issues in any case involving health, illness or injury.

What is a typical day like for you as a Legal Nurse Consultant?

I review medical records, consult with attorneys, make marketing calls and visits to attorney’s offices.

What services are you providing clients?

Medical Record Analysis
Case Support
Medical Liaison
Identifying and Locating Expert Witnesses and Witness Preparation
Discovery and Court Preparation

Why do attorneys need Legal Nurse Consultants?

While the attorney is the legal expert, the CLNC® is the expert on the healthcare system and its inner workings. Nowhere else will the legal profession have access to this level of cost-effective expertise for reviewing medical records and understanding and communicating the terminology and subtleties of the healthcare system.

What direction do you see the Legal Nurse Consultant profession heading?

This is a growth section of the healthcare industry.

What are the highlights of your career?

I believe that I am making a difference with cases that I’ve been involved with since becoming a CLNC, either when identifying a non-meritorious case before it entered the legal system or identifying when there is a probable case of gross negligence.

Any advice or tips that you think might be helpful for a current professional nurse or a future nurse interested in the field of Legal Nurse Consulting?

My advice to others would be to look beyond the hype of the ads…To be a successful Legal Nurse Consultant is to be the business owner who is willing to do the work to build your business and cultivate the relationships with the attorneys to bring in the volume of work to financially support your business. As you are looking at becoming a Legal Nurse Consultant, decide how you want to use your nursing expertise in the legal arena. Would you be willing to be the clinical expert who testifies on behalf of the client? Do you like reviewing charts and making timelines of the significant events? Are you willing to build your business slowly over time?

As an objective reviewer of the health care process, I am allowed to see where the system failed, or if the system worked correctly, despite a bad outcome. This is a powerful way to use my healthcare expertise as a consultant to the legal profession.

I’m proud to have gone through the Certification process. Although the education process is intense, I know that my work product is of high quality and that I am an asset to any attorney that uses my services.

To learn more about Sierra Nurse Consultants, LLC and their services please email Becky Czarnik, RN, MS, CLNC at Becky@sierranurse.com or www.sierranurse.com or call 775-853-1125

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