RN2JD: What being an RN taught me about being a Privacy Attorney

nurse scales

Nursing school is harder than law school. Seriously.

As a nurse (and a nursing student), you really do have someone’s life in your hands. As an attorney, some may argue that you do, but you really don’t. There are many failsafes built into the system.

As a law student, I rarely took my books into the house. No, I did not read for class. (and yes, I still did really well in my classes). As a nursing student, I lived, breathed, and sweated with my books.

Being an RN has helped me be a better privacy attorney. I was an oncology, hospice, clinical research, cardiac, and unit (ICU/CCU) nurse. Here are the top ten ways being an RN helps:

  1. Stay cool in an emergency.

When there is an emergency, you need the quarterback (usually the one who knows the most, like the doctor), you need the experienced nurses, and you need a recorder – someone who documents what was done when.  You don’t need someone who loses their head. One must be knowledgeable, experienced, fast, decisive, and accurate.

  1. Check your work twice or three times and have a witness when it is critical.

Sometimes, something is just important enough that you need to not only check your work, but you need someone to check it for you – and perhaps even go on record that they have done so. In both professions, this seems to happen more at the start of your career, but there are many times that it is still needed for an experienced professional.

  1. Use your time wisely.

Do what needs to be done, when it needs to be done. And if a meeting is required, have the right people in the room – and don’t waste time.

  1. Weird things happen at night and during the full moon.

Be prepared for anything. This is not an urban myth. If something weird is going to happen or something is going to go tragically wrong, it will be at night or during a full moon. People act differently. Those in comas may wake up. Those who can’t move, start dancing. It’s just weird. Be prepared for weird. Take it in stride. Manage your business.

  1. Document. Document. Document.

Enough said.

  1. Be an advocate for those you serve and to those you serve.

Those you serve don’t always know what they need and are not always rationale, be they patients or clients (or family). People tend to set their sights on something and that something may or may not be right for them. At times, you have to advocate for their wishes when it is something you don’t personally believe in, but your job is to advocate ethically for the one you serve. Other times, you have to advocate to that person when what they want, what they really really want, is not the right choice or the smart choice. Sometimes the wrong choice is what they select and despite your best advice and guidance, it is all they can see. Sometimes, it hurts to see that choice made, but you are not them. There have been times when I have had to advise a family and I cried doing it. It was a painful choice, but the right one for the person affected who could not speak for him/herself.

  1. Fight to win.

When you are going in to fight an enemy, pull out all of the stops within legal and ethical boundaries. Be creative. Attack on multiple fronts. Identify what is most important and fight for that, even if it may not seem like winning to others. Put all you have into winning and at times, be willing to redefine what winning means.

  1. Root problems may not be seen, but cause just as much damage.

You may not see the disease that is growing and causing issues. Until you realize it, you must fight the symptoms and not the cause. Sometimes that is all you can do, but along with treating the symptoms, keep looking for the root cause. If you can find the cause, hope that it is curable. If it is not curable, then look for what you can do – reduce it, contain it, something. If however, you cannot find the cause, then fix the symptoms – alleviate the suffering and prevent complications. In law, this applies to people as well as processes. You can always tell when there is a problem, you just don’t always know where the root of that problem lies.

  1. Just because you love what you do, doesn’t mean you love every minute of it.

I loved being a nurse.  I even loved being a hospice nurse and more about living during that time. But I did not love every minute of every day. Same with being a privacy attorney. I love what I do. I am very passionate about it, but I don’t love every minute of it. Sure there are frustrations and problems.  If, however, the negatives started outnumbering the positives, I’d have to find something else to do.

  1. Things are done a certain way for a reason.

Some may not still be warranted. Don’t be afraid to question them, but don’t question them just for the sake of argument. In nursing and in law, there is a reason for traditions, norms, expectations, policies, practices, and processes. Some of this is general across the profession and some is localized to your region or employer. Don’t come into a new place and start shaking it up without sizing it up.

Bonus: When you get the answer you want, shut up.

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