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Nurse Attorney

Can’t decide between the nursing field and the law field? Combine them both as a nurse attorney. Nurse attorneys are a rare breed of nurse who combine these two fields: they hold degrees both as a registered nurse (RN) as well as a law degree (Juris Doctorate, or JD).

The specialization of the nurse attorney has evolved because of the sheer legal complexity of the health field. Between government regulations, disputes with insurance companies, and an unending stream of malpractice suits, both the field of law and government have developed a need for attorneys who are also health experts.

Nurse attorneys work in many different settings. Some nurse attorneys have their own private law practice, where their health expertise might lead them to specialize in malpractice or injury cases. There are some nurse attorneys who work exclusively with doctors and nurses who have been wrongly accused of malpractice. Other nurse attorneys work for large law firms offering expert health advice as consultants.

In the government, nurse attorneys work at local, state, and federal levels to help shape health policy. This type of role is very attractive to nurses who always felt that it was the healthcare system itself that short-changed its patients, and they want to be able to be a part of reforming that system. Others nurse attorneys, rather than becoming directly involved in policy-making from the side of government, work as lobbyists for medical or nursing association, trying to educate lawmakers and advocating for certain healthcare policies.

Still other nurse attorneys with more academic interests work for professional nursing and legal journals as authors and editors. These nurse attorneys might also work for think tanks that produce studies about health care issues that affect certain communities or subsections of the population.

 

 

Becoming a Nurse Attorney

A nurse attorney must first attain a bachelor’s degree and become a registered nurse. It is important to attain a bachelor’s degree and not an associate’s degree, because law schools look for candidates with standard four-year bachelor’s degrees. Typically, it is after spending a number of years in the nursing field that the nurse decides to go back to school to enter the law field. At this point, the nurse must first take the LSAT, which is the law school entrance exam. The LSAT is very important, as some law schools weigh these scores heavily when looking at law school applications.

Law schools are generally three year programs. After graduating from a law program, the new nurse attorney is free to look for a job in the field that interests him or her the most.

An Alternative to Law School

If law school sounds too daunting, consider that any registered nurse can promote him or herself as a legal nurse consultant. Called LNCs, legal nurse consultants aid lawyers by helping them understand the ins and outs of health issues – such as interpreting a client’s health records or otherwise acting as an healthcare expert with whom the lawyer can consult. Some LNCs later become nurse attorneys after working with law firms and gaining experience in the legal system.

LNCs can earn a very good living – typical charges range from $75 to $100 to help a lawyer with a case and $150 per hour for serving as an expert witness.

 

Job Prospects for Nurse Attorneys

Nurse attorneys are rare primarily because nurse attorneys need much more education than a standard RN, and the degrees they require are vastly different. Rather than focusing on science and math skills, law school candidates have to be very skilled in verbal and written skills. Although gaining a master’s degree in nursing to become a nurse practitioner and gaining a law degree to become a nurse attorney would take about the same amount of time, the nurse attorney is learning about a brand new field, whereas nurse practitioner candidates are expanding their knowledge about a field in which they already have a good deal of experience.

Currently, in a nation with about three million nurses, the American Association of Nurse Attorneys has only four hundred members – indicating just how unique this nursing specialty is.

Of course, once a nurse attorney becomes one of the rare few to combine their passions of health and law, pay can be quite good. A lawyer with less than a year of experience earns close to $60,000, and most lawyers with ten years of experience or more earn six figures. Lobbyists also easily earn six figures per year, with the median salary being about $95,000 per year.

And while government jobs are not as highly paid, they are rewarding in a non-monetary sense – the nurse attorney knows that he or she is helping shape a healthier healthcare policy.

 

 


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