Former RN Now Advocates for Caregivers

November 2nd, 2011


By , BSN, RN

What do you get when you cross a nurse and an attorney? Ok, I have no funny answer for that and it seems like I should but what I do have is a fascinating acquaintance with Lisa Rocheleau, a former nurse who gave up caring for kids to tend to their health care providers.

What kind of nurse were you?

"Nursing was my first career, peds (pediatric) ICU and neonate ICU (NICU) for four years. Then I decided I needed some adult experience. I worked in PACU (post anesthesia care unit), I loved that; and I did ICU—didn't care for that at all. Then I moved from Wisconsin to Texas and I went back to the NICU. I just loved the NICU."

What took you away from nursing if you enjoyed it that much?

"When I was in Wisconsin I was called to testify about a child I had treated in the PICU. The child had been assaulted by the mother. The DA had such a poor understanding of the medical terminology and what we do, I remember thinking what a great mix that would be, medicine and law. I decided to go back to school and I was going to get a Ph.D. in nursing or, I thought, maybe law school. I took the LSAT, applied to law school, and got accepted. It was all really fast."

Were you able to take classes in law school that reinforced your interest in medical law?

" In law school there was no focus for that except one medical malpractice, 2-hour, course. I clerked at two different law firms but there was a greater focus on regulations, health care law. It was interesting but I like the interaction with the health care providers."

Does anything from being a nurse carry over to being a lawyer?

"I liked the precision of the NICU. Details are one of my strengths. The level of detail, lots of reporting that needs to be done…that carried over to what I do as an attorney. "

How do you get your clients?

" When a healthcare provider is sued most are insured. So, it's the insurance company who contacts me but it is the insured provider that I represent. "

Which brings me to a very topical question, what do you think about nurses having their own malpractice insurance?

" Malpractice insurance for nurses is interesting. The reality is if you are employed by a good facility, and most nurses are, there is sufficient coverage for you. Sometimes when the nurse has their own policy it can make the nurse a target. Malpractice insurance for nurses is usually pretty reasonably priced and you can get up to a million dollars in coverage. But many physicians will have only $250-500,000 in coverage."

Do state malpractice caps apply to nurses, not just doctors?

I listened to her clicking away on her computer as she looked up the exact statutes that apply to amounts and to exactly who medical malpractice caps cover.

" Many states have malpractice caps to protect health care providers, not just physicians. So, if you have a nurse, a nurse practitioner and a physician all being sued they share the amount of the cap on the non-economic damage—pain and suffering."

Looking at a career as a nurse with the eyes of a nurse and attorney, what would you say is the deepest pothole today's nurses need to look out for?

"I believe it is communication and documentation. Communication is a major theme or sub-theme for trouble. If the nurse doesn’t communicate a change in a patient's condition that is fertile ground for lawsuits. Nurses need to step up and be the patient advocate. Report—Communicate—Document."

Do you tell your clients you were once a nurse?"

"I say, 'I used to be a nurse.' Part of me wishes I had kept my license up but along the way I just didn't see the need. So I do say I used to be a nurse. It's interesting, you don't tell clients right away, and then tell them later and they talk to you differently, I find. It changes when they know you are comfortable with the concepts, with the terminology."

I know you wouldn't go back to nursing but, do you think about it sometimes?

"I miss it some days. I miss the technical skills, the opportunity to educate parents. I miss going home at the end of a shift and shutting it down. On this side, you live with your client day-in, day-out, sometimes for weeks at a time."

Are wondering about the big smile Rocheleau sports in her photograph? Yes, she is a woman who enjoys her work. This picture was taken by a former client of Rocheleau's. Yes, she won his case.

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