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Moving from clinics to courts

Amanda Gossman combined her clinical expertise as a registered nurse with an interest in the law to forge a new career as a legal nurse consultant. Linda Belardi reports.

Legal nurse consulting is an emerging specialty area for nurses. First established in 1989 in the US, the role is still in its infancy and relatively unrecognised in Australia.

Legal nurse consultants help bridge the gap between the legal and healthcare industries by assisting lawyers to review and analyse medical records, understand medical terminology and by acting as a liaison between the two professions.

Commonly employed by law firms or insurance companies, they often work on medical malpractice, worker’s compensation and personal injury claims.

Amanda Gossman has worked as an independent legal nurse consultant for the past two years following a career as a critical care nurse and nurse educator in both Australia and South Africa. Born in Cape Town, Gossman migrated to Australia in 2004 and has since established her own legal nurse consulting business in Melbourne. She has additional qualifications in midwifery, community health and psychiatry.

NR: What is special about your role?

In my role as a legal nurse consultant I utilise my health science education and clinical expertise to screen legal cases for merit, interview clients, educate lawyers on healthcare standards and locate professional and respected expert witnesses for cases involved in medico-legal litigation. This enables the legal team, whether defence or plaintiff, to prepare a case. The legal nurse consultant position is an impartial role which forms an integral part of the litigation process. We help close the gap between healthcare and the law. This role is challenging because it requires building a trusting and workable relationship with a whole new industry - the legal profession.

NR: Are legal nurse consultants in demand?

There is concern within the medical and legal professions about the growth of medico-legal issues in Australia. Their concerns include the costs incurred in processing medical liability claims and rising medical indemnity insurance premiums. These concerns, along with protection of the community at large, demonstrate the need for a member of the litigation team to provide an avenue of collaboration between these two professions. The legal nurse consultant role provides that trustworthy and cost-effective link as nursing is viewed as one of the most trusted professions.

NR: What opportunities exist for nurses to work in the legal arena?

Nurses already work in the legal field in Australia. They are employed by coroners courts, give evidence as forensic nurses in criminal matters and work for insurance companies as medical advisers as case assessors. The independent legal nurse consultant role is still relatively new and this area is available to those registered nurses who feel they have the necessary skills and traits to be successful in their own businesses. They may choose to work as in-house consultants for law firms to gain more experience before starting their own businesses.

NR: Why did you pursue this area of expertise?

I needed to re-ignite my passion after many years of being a registered nurse. Legal nurse consulting allows me to utilise those ideals which initially led me to the nursing profession, but in a way that now stretches my knowledge and challenges me in new and creative ways. The independent legal nurse consulting role also allows me more family time, as I dictate my own work hours.

I am supported by organisations both nationally and internationally. A prerequisite for any legal nurse consultant is to maintain an active RN licence and to abide by the standards and codes of conduct inherent to practising as a registered nurse. I have memberships in the nursing, legal and business industries, including the International and American Association of the Legal Nurse industry. I am held to account in the same way as if I were in the clinical setting, as legal nurse consulting is a specialty of nursing.

NR: What skills are important to be successful in your job?

Legal nurse consultants need to have a strong clinical nursing and educational background. Good analytical, interpretative and research skills are essential. They need to be committed to the legal nurse consultant role, highly ethical, unbiased and trustworthy. Learning to run a business also requires new skills, adaptability and initiative.

While there is no specific legal training required for this role, it is highly recommended that nurses who wish to pursue this role undertake some self study. I have undertaken this type of professional development and I attend legal seminars and conferences to improve my understanding of the legal aspect of my work. It is also recommended that any nurse who is considering the independent legal nurse consulting role, undertake a training and mentorship program from someone who is actively working in the field and continue CPD activities relative to their area of practice as a nurse.

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