Can a Nurse Attorney Help a Dismissed Nursing Student?

By | 2022-06-10T17:21:35-04:00 June 10th, 2022|0 Comments

In a previous blog, I wrote about nursing students and the many legal protections they possess. In this new case, a nursing student who was dismissed from her nursing education program submitted a question that again raised the issue of what rights students actually have. Can a nurse attorney help her?

The student stated she had an A average and was on the dean’s list. One of her teachers reportedly “got mad” at her and did not allow her to finish her clinical rotation due to “minor clinical issues.”

The student was frustrated and went to see the nursing counselor. After the meeting, the nursing counselor shared what the student told her with the teacher in question.

The student was then “written up and dismissed” without any additional communication from the school.

She wonders what she can legally do to challenge the dismissal and what kind of attorney should she retain.

Unanswered Questions

This nursing student’s situation lends itself to many questions. For instance, it would be helpful to know whether the nursing school is based in a private or public academic institution.

As she did not indicate this point, I am assuming it was a private institution. With a dismissal from a private nursing education program, she has rights and protections afforded her in the student handbook, including how to challenge a dismissal.

Regardless of the rights granted to students in a private nursing education program, the law requires that nursing education programs make decisions concerning dismissal in a fair, reasoned, and principled manner.

It appears that no rights were afforded her with the dismissal. As a result, the student would need to consult a nurse attorney or attorney to determine what specific rights are available or required when a dismissal occurs.

The attorney should specialize in education law and have experience representing students.

The second factor needing clarification is the role of the “nursing counselor.” Is this person someone who handles student placement and similar curricular responsibilities, or is the individual a true “counselor” who provides emotional support and counseling to students?

If the role is the latter, the counselor is bound by standards of practice and the law to maintain the confidentiality of information a student shares. That apparently did not happen here, and this student may need to explore the option of suing the counselor for a breach of confidentiality and privacy.

Another troubling issue is what the “minor clinical issues” are for which the student was not allowed to continue her clinical rotation. Are they truly minor? Was the student informed of the requirements she was not meeting and the consequences if she didn’t correct her behavior?

Again, based on the student handbook, this student may have a legal argument that the teacher and the nursing education program did not adhere to its established procedures for removal from a clinical placement and ultimate dismissal from the education program.

Guidelines for a Consultation With a Nurse Attorney

I have discussed in previous blogs that the law requires credible evidence of what occurred when considering a possible lawsuit. Your statements alone will not be enough to determine what your legal options are.

So, when meeting with a nurse attorney or attorney to evaluate what legal options you might have in this type of situation, it is important for you to take the following with you to the meeting:

  • Your student handbook
  • Your course syllabus
  • Your clinical requirements
  • Any documentation from your nurse counselor
  • The written communication from the education program dismissing you
  • Any evaluations of your clinical performances
  • Any other written documents pertinent to the situation

It is also important to meet with your attorney as soon as possible after the dismissal has occurred. It is quite possible that the nursing education program has adopted time frames within which a student can “appeal” a dismissal within the education system.

Meeting those times frames may be essential in preserving your right to challenge the dismissal there, whether or not the education program granted you the rights they established for you.

And remember to be truthful with the nurse attorney about what occurred. Not being truthful will compromise the attorney’s ability to win your case. It will also reflect negatively on your credibility in any lawsuit.

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About the Author:

Nancy J. Brent, MS, JD, RN
Our legal information columnist Nancy J. Brent, MS, JD, RN, received her Juris Doctor from Loyola University Chicago School of Law and concentrates her solo law practice in health law and legal representation, consultation and education for healthcare professionals, school of nursing faculty and healthcare delivery facilities. Brent has conducted many seminars on legal issues in nursing and healthcare delivery across the country and has published extensively in the area of law and nursing practice. She brings more than 30 years of experience to her role of legal information columnist. Her posts are designed for educational purposes only and are not to be taken as specific legal or other advice. Individuals who need advice on a specific incident or work situation should contact a nurse attorney or attorney in their state. Visit The American Association of Nurse Attorneys website to search its attorney referral database by state.

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