By Shawn Kennedy, interim editor-in-chief

By now you’ve probably heard that last Thursday Anne Mitchell, the Texas nurse who found herself fired from her job and on trial after reporting a physician for what she felt was poor medical practice (see our report in the October 2009 issue) was found not guilty (her colleague, Vicki Galle, had her case dismissed prior to trial). It only took the jury about an hour to exonerate Mitchell of criminal charges and uphold her right to advocate for patients. (Day-by-day reports from the trial were made available on the Texas Nurses Association  (TNA) Web site.)

The case garnered national attention—at its core was a nurse’s right (duty, really) to safeguard patients in her or his care. It seemed a no-brainer, and almost incredible that the case even came to trial. Last Friday, I spoke with TNA president Susan Sportsman, PhD, RN, who agreed, saying she was surprised the case went forward, especially after the state medical board agreed that what the nurses did was appropriate. Sportsman said, “This is the role of nurses—it’s required that we report what we see to safeguard patients. This nurse was just doing her job, what she was supposed to do.”

Like nurses everywhere, Sportsman was “delighted and ecstatic” about the verdict. Sportsman noted a guilty verdict would have discouraged nurses and others from coming forward about poor care out of fear of losing their jobs and facing prosecution.  Perhaps more chilling would be the result that nurses would be powerless and without support to protect patients from unsafe care. (See JParadisi’s excellent piece on this on her blog.)

Nurses seem to be coming under fire lately—witness the lawsuit California anesthesiologists have filed against their governor. According to the petition (available on the American Association of Nurse Anesthetists’ Web site), the anesthesiologists charge that, in following Medicare policy allowing a state to “opt out” of the physician supervision requirement, the governor is acting outside of California law in allowing nurse anesthetists to practice without physician supervision. It’s another case that bears watching (and rallying!) by all nurses, not just CRNAs. Nurses have a right to practice within the scope allowed under the law and for which they are qualified; a challenge to one nursing group should be a challenge to all of us.

What’s your take on these issues? Will the Mitchell case (despite the verdict in her favor) discourage potential whistle-blowers among nurses? And should physician groups really be attempting to restrict nurses’ scope of practice?

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