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More than 20 years ago, Veronica Castellana, RN, BSN, EMLS, had been working as an Emergency Room nurse for several years when she developed a major hypersensitive allergy to latex. Since it was used extensively in the nursing field at the time, she needed to leave her job and find another one—preferably in the nursing field.
“I needed a new career option to support my kids,” she says. After taking a beginning course on Legal Nurse Consulting, Castellana realized that she needed more information in order to make it a long-term career option. She spent a year developing her own system that worked. When she discovered that other nurses had the same problems in finding information about this career that she had, Castellana developed the training as a certification course.
“Since then, I have practiced as a Legal Nurse Consultant and Expert Witness, while also training nurses to do the same type of work,” says Castellana, who has worked in this field for the last 19 years.
Castellana answered our questions about what’s involved with this type of career.
Can this be full-time work?
There are definitely enough cases out there for a full-time case load. Testifying as an expert witness alone would typically not offer full-time work. When combined with behind-the-scenes reviews, the work can definitely be full-time. Those nurses typically work on a contract basis, so they have the freedom to take on as many cases as they wish.
Do nurses need specific training to become Legal Nurse Consultants?
Training is not required to become an Expert Witness or Legal Nurse Consultant. Nurses have extensive medical expertise, and that is why they would be hired by attorneys. However, we do recommend that most nurses receive some training so that they can transition easier into this field and learn the intricacies to this type of work. The transition from medical to legal can be challenging for many nurses, so most new Legal Nurses will benefit greatly from some training. If they are working as an Expert Witness, some sort of preparation is highly recommended so that they know what to expect.
How do you train nurses how to do this?
My course is called LNC STAT (www.LNCSTAT.com). We train nurses how to utilize their medical expertise in legal cases, and act as expert witnesses. It is home study format. Nurses learn at their own pace using online training and some printed manuals that are included. They practice with real cases from start to finish. We include mentoring and support throughout the entire process. After they work through much of the course, they can choose to attend a live event where we review the content.
Most people only know what they see in trials on TV dramas. Is that what it’s really like?
Television shows definitely add some unrealistic drama. While some trials can be very emotional for the parties involved, most expert witness work is rather straight forward, especially for nurses. When nurses act as expert witnesses, they are typically used for medical clarification, so very little drama is involved. They are asked to explain the events in the medical records, explain the medical standards of care, and discuss any failures to adhere to those standards of care. These are topics that nurses are very familiar with, so it isn’t very difficult for them. Just like anything else, the first time can be intimidating, but most nurses get used to it very quickly.
What did you enjoy most about working as a nurse in the legal field?
Most nurses cannot work clinically for their entire career because of the strenuous physical requirements. This career option offers some great alternatives for these nurses. They have the freedom to work as much or as little as they want. This career path allowed me to continue working in the medical field. Most nurses really enjoy the positive impact that they have on people’s lives. Legal Nurse Consultant and Expert Witness work allows me to continue helping people in another way, and allows me to see the direct results of my efforts.
What would readers find most surprising about the work you do?
Many nurses don’t really understand how valuable their medical expertise is in the legal field. Most Legal Nurses earn $30-$150 per hour reviewing medical records and around $300-$500 per hour acting as expert witnesses. After many years in a hospital setting, nurses are often surprised to hear that their expertise is worth so much. They would also be surprised as to how many legal cases need their expertise.
What would you say to someone who was considering getting into this kind of work? What would they need to do to prepare themselves? What skills do they need?
Their medical expertise is what is in demand. If they have 2 or more years as a nurse, they are already qualified. We recommend completing a training course so they can make the transition easier and understand what is expected of them in this new field. When it comes to choosing a course, the most comprehensive training will benefit them the most, so they know exactly how to find the cases and work them from start to finish.
This career path can be very exciting, rewarding, and challenging, but it is usually something that requires nurses to take an active approach to implementing. They should be motivated, willing to learn something new, and willing to step outside of their comfort zone.