Some people go to great lengths to claim degrees and qualifications they’ve never had – and the penalties can be severe.
Recently in Queensland, a person was employed as a nurse in a remote community, without having any relevant qualifications. The person had forged documentation to carry out the scam.
The profession of nursing maintains its reputation and standards through a number of means; one of those is a national registration body, the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency. Some schemes to deceive this regulator with false qualifications can be elaborate, sophisticated and even quite brazen.
A recent South Australian hearing this year by the Health Practitioners Tribunal offers such an example. The alleged grounds of misconduct by the respondent (RN), to which he ultimately admitted, were:
1. In October 2012, the respondent, in the course of applying to the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) Reserves for deployment to a nursing position in Afghanistan, falsely claimed to the RAAF to be holding a university-level qualification, which he listed as “master of perioperative nursing”.
2. At the same time, he represented to the RAAF in writing that he held the position of nurse practitioner and an endorsement of such on his nursing registration (which he did not have). In connection with the first allegation, the respondent forged a document titled “University Degree of Master of Nursing” and later forged two letters on the relevant university letterhead, along with signatures in support of the fraud.
3. In connection with the deployment to Afghanistan, the respondent forged another document on the university letterhead purporting to set out his academic results in connection with the claimed master’s of nursing degree and another forged signature.
4. Also in connection with the deployment to Afghanistan, the respondent did submit to the RAAF each of the forged documents.
The respondent was at all relevant times an RN. As background, the respondent, who arrived in Australia in 2007, came from a family with a long military involvement. He himself joined the military in 1975 at the age of just 16 and served until 1996.
Upon relocating to Australia from Europe, he enlisted in the Australian Defence Force (ADF) as a specialist reservist officer. After completing training, he was awarded a high readiness position for deployment at short notice. This never eventuated. The reason for refusal of deployment was either that he did not have enough experience or was not sufficiently qualified.
Later in 2007, he was asked to design and manage a perioperative course for the ADF, which he did, and then took up a role teaching the course with the ADF. When this was completed, he returned to civilian life.
In 2010, the respondent was offered a position to go on an exercise designed to hone his skills for redeployment. He completed this course and returned to civilian occupation, hoping the additional training would him at last secure a deployment – but still none came. The respondent’s psychiatrist submitted to the tribunal that over the years the rejection of the nurse’s applications for deployment “wore him down”.
The psychiatrist explained to the tribunal that when the expressions of interest for deployment to Afghanistan came to the respondent’s attention, he filled out the documentation assuming it would be futile and he would be rejected. Then, in a fit of frustration and anger, the psychiatrist stated, he added the false qualifications outlined above. When he was queried about doing so, he said he felt it was too late to admit it, so he panicked and added to the lie by falsifying the documents in support of it.
In an attempt to lessen his penalty, the respondent submitted to the tribunal that once the forgery was discovered, he apologised for his actions and was extremely remorseful. He said he had been honest and hardworking throughout his life and argued that his actions were not to gain a financial benefit. His only explanation was that he had a long-held desire to be deployed with the ADF, which led him to falsify his qualifications. The respondent tendered his curriculum vitae as well. The tribunal noted the respondent had gained a wealth of experience over the years and had completed a number of courses to improve his skills. Further, his nursing skills were highly sought after.
The tribunal regarded the respondent’s conduct as behaviour that amounted to a serious example of non-clinical professional misconduct. It noted that if the respondent had succeeded in his application then he would have been placed in Afghanistan in a situation where he would’ve been required to use nursing skills that he did not have, thereby potentially putting members of the armed forces and others at unnecessary risk.
In its function of protecting members of the public, the tribunal reprimanded the respondent in the strongest possible terms and suspended his registration for 12 months. Further, it imposed certain conditions on his registration. Clearly, these penalties would have been even more severe if the respondent hadn’t had an unblemished record, pleaded guilty, demonstrated remorse, made full admissions and avoided seeking to gain a financial benefit from the deception. That stated, the penalties imposed demonstrate the seriousness of such non-clinical misconduct and the degree of disrepute it brought upon the nursing profession.
Scott Trueman is a lecturer in the School of Nursing, Midwifery and Nutrition at James Cook University.Do you have an idea for a story?
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