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Schools Mold Programs to Meet Health Care Demands
As the practice of medicine becomes more sophisticated, the need for nurse paralegals, legal nurse consultants grows.
By Randi D. Bemiss

September/October 2000 Issue

The demand for credible individuals to decipher medical records and events in legal proceedings is expanding, according to Laura Mahlmeister, a registered nurse (RN) and legal nurse consultant (LNC) who owns a quality improvement and risk management firm in San Francisco.

Nearly 50 paralegal programs geared toward the needs of the legal and health care industries are broadening paralegal career opportunities nationwide to include nurse/healthcare paralegal specialties. That number continues to grow.

Paralegal educators running certificate programs, such as the American Bar Association (ABA)-approved Nurse/Health Care Paralegal Studies at Pennsylvania College of Technology, recently began reaching out to a range of prospective students.

Students with backgrounds in nursing or other health-science fields, including physician assistant, occupational therapy, radiography and Applied Health Studies are considered ideal for these programs.

“A few years ago, program enrollments were down and AAfPE [American Association for Paralegal Education] was looking for other ways to increase program membership. [Nurse/health care paralegal studies] was an untapped program,” said attorney Paul Guymon, president of AAfPE and paralegal program coordinator at William Rainey Harper College in Illinois.

“When press releases [about the nurse/health care paralegal studies] hit the local papers [last spring] we got five to 10 calls each day — for weeks — about it,” said Kevin R. Derr, Pennsylvania College’s director of legal assistant/paralegal studies.

Impetus for Growth
The intertwining of medicine and law is increasing as medicine becomes more sophisticated.
“It is becoming harder for doctors to understand if something has gone wrong, so they need a nurse paralegal to evaluate it,” said Teri Cannon, education consultant to the ABA’s Standing Committee on Legal Assistants.

“[A nurse paralegal program certificate] gives nurses more credentials with lawyers,” Cannon explained.
Nurse/health care paralegals and LNCs may work in a variety of settings including law firms,
corporations and government agencies on product liability, medical malpractice and insurance-related cases.

Salary Range
Mahlmeister said that LNCs could expect to make more than their salary as a RN because of their additional legal education. According to the Medical-Legal Consulting Institute’s Web site, a resource center for nurses, LNCs can earn $60 to $150 per hour.

However, paralegals — in the New York metropolitan area — with a nursing background and three to five years of paralegal experience can expect to earn $50,000 to $60,000 (per year) working for a law firm and about $10,000 less in a corporate legal department, said attorney Elise R. Sloan, recruitment manager at Brookes Legal Staffing in New York City.

Designation Confusion
The terms, LNC and nurse/health care paralegal, have been used interchangeably. However, LNCs are registered nurses who may have supplementary legal education, while nurse/health care paralegals are paralegals that may be RNs, but can have other health care backgrounds (see “My Opinion,” page 12 of this issue).

“The inconsistency is that nurse [health care] paralegals at least go through a paralegal program, but many LNCs just hang a shingle and begin to provide feedback to attorneys without going through a paralegal program,” said attorney Sally Austin, immediate past president of The American Association of Nurse Attorneys (TAANA) and co-author of a LNC education program at the National Center of Paralegal Training in Atlanta.

TAANA, whose members are dual professionals — having both nurse credentials and law degrees or having one degree while earning the another — also has a special section for LNCs.

Legal nurse consulting has been accepted by the American Board of Nursing Specialties as a specialty area of nursing.

Certification isn’t a requirement for LNCs, but is available through LNCs Certification Board.

The American Association of Legal Nurse Consultants doesn’t currently endorse any programs, but prefers those developed and taught by experienced nurses and practicing LNCs. If an LNC program is associated with the ABA, however, it must meet the ABA’s paralegal program guidelines.

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Updated 09/30/04
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