The following is an excerpt from Becker's Hospital Review.
More than 100,000 nurses left the workforce in 2021, according to an analysis published April 13 in Health Affairs. Now a nurse's criminal conviction for a medical error has the profession worried about how that number might swell.
RaDonda Vaught's March 25 conviction for a fatal medical mistake has spurred an outcry from nurses across the country, who say the ruling sets a dangerous precedent for the profession and will discourage nurses from speaking up about errors.
Ms. Vaught was convicted of criminally negligent homicide and abuse of an impaired adult for a fatal medication error she made in December 2017 after overriding an electronic medical cabinet as a nurse at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn.
Ms. Vaught, 38, faces up to eight years in prison for the error. Her sentencing is scheduled for May 13.
The case is a rare example of a healthcare worker facing criminal charges for a medical error. An estimated 22,000 people die annually in U.S. hospitals because of preventable errors, a 2020 study found.
Many nurses have expressed concerns about the likelihood of similar mistakes under increasingly difficult working conditions.
"The RaDonda case could have been any one of us who was busy, tired, overwhelmed and trying to do the right thing," Christen Bryce, RN, a New York-based mental health and substance abuse nurse, told Becker's.
This viewpoint is hardly universal. Other nurses believe Ms. Vaught was rightfully held accountable for her error.
"I understand that the majority of nurses don't want to see RaDonda prosecuted. Neither did I. But we take an oath to not cause harm," Latrina Walden, MSN, a nurse practitioner based in Georgia, told Becker's.
For some nurses and nursing students, the risk of criminal prosecution is enough to make them reconsider a career in nursing.
Erica, a Las Vegas-based hospice nurse and social media influencer who asked not to share her last name and goes by the pseudonym "Nurse Erica," said she's heard from thousands of nurses who have expressed concerns about staying in the profession since Ms. Vaught's conviction.
"I've heard thousands of them say, 'Yep, that's it. I just quit,' or 'I just turned in my two weeks notice,' or 'I am now in the process of figuring out my exit plan to leave within the next three to six months,'" she said.
Some safety and medical organizations, including the American Nurses Association, the Institute for Safe Medicine Practices and the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, have warned the verdict could have broader repercussions on healthcare recruitment efforts.
"The nursing profession is already extremely short-staffed, strained and facing immense pressure — an unfortunate multiyear trend that was further exacerbated by the effects of the pandemic," the American Nurses Association and Tennessee Nurses Association said March 25. "This ruling will have a long-lasting negative impact on the profession." (Continued)
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