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In theory, do nurses know enough medical knowledge to give advice?

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by BDC BDC (New) New

Hey guys, I'm a brand new nursing student here with an unwithering passion for learning everything I need to learn from nursing school! I just have a few questions that I was hoping some of you nurses could answer and explain!

1)

I understand that nurses are not allowed to give medical advice to anyone when off the clock, as they can lose their license, but my question is theoretically speaking, do nurses know "enough" medical knowledge to potentially give advice? Like say that there was no law saying that nurses cannot give medical knowledge and that you wouldn't lose your license if you did. I only ask because I hope that I will learn enough from school to be knowledgable enough in the field to understanding the why and the how

2)

Also, I guess my other question is how much can a nurse help outside of a hospital setting? My pathophysiology professor just mentioned to me that if a medical emergency happened at public space, you can only assistance to a certain extent, but you should never tell the person that you are a nurse because then you could be held liable. My passion for nursing stems from me wanting to help people, even when I'm off the clock. I love being knowledgable and helping to make a difference so I was wondering how much could you do to help a pedestrian enough where I wouldn't lose my license? I'm just confused because of I thought we could help in life-threatening emergencies due to the Good Samaritan Law. 

3)

This kind of ties in with the first question, but could I potentially give health advice, if not medical advice? Like if I had a friend who was constantly stress eating and generally not taking well care of themselves, could I inform them why chronic stress is not good for their health due to high cortisol levels leading to high blood pressure and spiked blood glucose levels and blah blah blah? Isn't that technically "medical advice" so am I not allowed to say that? Or in another situation, if I saw a family member having signs of cancer but they are not aware of it as they never saw a doctor, can I advise them to see a doctor and say something like, "Hey, I am not a doctor and it is completely outside my scope of practice to diagnose you, but I am concerned that you may have ______ cancer and I think you should go see a doctor"?

 

Sorry for the long post, I'm just so thrilled about getting into the profession! :)

Sour Lemon

Has 9 years experience.

These aren't specifically "nurse" issues. It's fine to share what you know or recommend that people get things checked out- no matter who you are. As far as assisting in emergencies, laws may vary around this great big world. In general, it's fine to do what you know how to do ...and nothing more than that. Start CPR, attempt to stop the bleeding, but don't pull out a pocket knife to create an airway, ya know?

1 hour ago, BDC said:

Like if I had a friend who was constantly stress eating and generally not taking well care of themselves, could I inform them why chronic stress is not good for their health due to high cortisol levels leading to high blood pressure and spiked blood glucose levels and blah blah blah? 

If you say things like this to your friends, all they will hear is the "blah blah blah" part. Keep it to yourself unless they specifically ask for your opinion.

GrumpyRN, NP

Specializes in Emergency Department. Has 39 years experience.

Your biggest problem as a nurse will be STOPPING people from asking advice. The public assume we know everything. As long as you work within your limitations/knowledge you should be fine.

In UK it part of your registration that you MUST give assistance in public up to your level of knowledge/experience. For example as I am ED trained and an ALS provider I would be expected to do full CPR in community if required.

I appreciate that US is different in that you have huge liability issues. Our liability issues go the other way - I would be in trouble for NOT doing anything.

Don't sweat it, when(if) it happens you will go into auto pilot.

7 hours ago, BDC said:

Like if I had a friend who was constantly stress eating and generally not taking well care of themselves, could I inform them why chronic stress is not good for their health due to high cortisol levels leading to high blood pressure and spiked blood glucose levels and blah blah blah? Isn't that technically "medical advice" so am I not allowed to say that? Or in another situation, if I saw a family member having signs of cancer but they are not aware of it as they never saw a doctor, can I advise them to see a doctor and say something like, "Hey, I am not a doctor and it is completely outside my scope of practice to diagnose you, but I am concerned that you may have ______ cancer and I think you should go see a doctor"?

Telling a friend to stop eating is a good way to lose that friend.

Telling anyone you are concerned about them and they should see a doctor is just good healthcare but you should refrain from stating; "I am concerned that you may have ______ cancer." All you can do is advise to seek medical opinion.

 

Hoosier_RN, MSN

Specializes in dialysis. Has 28 years experience.

These topics will be covered in one form or another in nursing classes. Instructors will give it as side notes, you will learn some in ethics/legal classes, etc

Jedrnurse, BSN, RN

Specializes in school nurse. Has 29 years experience.

2 hours ago, Hoosier_RN said:

These topics will be covered in one form or another in nursing classes. Instructors will give it as side notes, you will learn some in ethics/legal classes, etc

I hope so; it didn't really come up in my classes. The subject was a sort of "do-it-yourself" professional development post licensure kind of thing.

Hoosier_RN, MSN

Specializes in dialysis. Has 28 years experience.

1 hour ago, Jedrnurse said:

I hope so; it didn't really come up in my classes. The subject was a sort of "do-it-yourself" professional development post licensure kind of thing.

My instructors would be teaching whatever the subject du jour was. Then throw in "don't blah blah blah" or "say x" lest you step outside of your scope and open yourself to many forms of liability in our litigious society. That was in the late 90s. It's 100x worse now! I definitely hope that they're saying something 

Edited by Hoosier_RN

NightNerd, MSN, RN

Specializes in CMSRN, tele, palliative, psych. Has 7 years experience.

This is such an earnest question and I love that you're so eager to educate and help!

First, while education is a part of our practice as nurses, we can't forget that our family and friends are NOT our patients. You may witness certain signs and symptoms, but you likely don't have their entire medical history. When people ask for advice, refer them to their PCP. You don't have to take a stab at diagnosing them, as that isn't in our scope of practice; you can recognize when certain things need further assessment, so go with that.

In regards to observing unhealthy behaviors in friends and family, please don't lecture them on how they could do better. I know you want to help, but you cannot be a nurse 24/7. It will drive you and everyone you know crazy. If you are concerned about someone, approach them as you would based on your relationship with them - not as a nurse. If I were to notice a friend exhibiting signs of depression, or see a family member slipping into addiction, or anything similar, I would honestly and compassionstely share my concerns and offer them help. The most nursing I would bring into it is sharing resources I've learned of through my practice, IF they are interested. Otherwise, unless they are an immediate danger to themselves or others, you have to let them make their own choices; even as a nurse, you cannot save everyone - you can only offer support and resources based on your role in their life.

Finally, outside if the hospital, remember that as a nurse, you're not really a first responder. At work, we have so many resources and tools to help us treat a patient; out in the world, we're pretty limited. So, you are pretty safe doing what you're trained to do. Assess. Contact EMS. If needed, you can do CPR and use an AED. Keep the person safe. That is plenty helpful in an emergent situation when you're not on the clock, and it won't get you in any kind of trouble.

Great questions, and I wish you all the best in nursing school!

Been there,done that, ASN, RN

Has 33 years experience.

" theoretically speaking, do nurses know "enough" medical knowledge to potentially give advice? Oh yeah.. you will have a boatload of medical knowledge.   However, sharing that knowledge  will fall within the scope of your position and  the policy of your place of employment.  

"my other question is how much can a nurse help outside of a hospital setting? " Review your state's laws on this.  The Good Samaritan law may or may not not protect you.

You would lose a lot of friends by offering your unsolicited advice. If you see a family member showing signs of cancer, you could only say,"that concerns me, you need to see a doctor."   Anything else is offering medical advice, which nurses are not covered to do.

You are an idealistic new student with the urge to heal and comfort sick people.  Sharing all of your newfound knowledge in the wrong places, could get you in trouble fast. Keep your lips zipped.

 Best wishes with your studies.

 

Thank you everyone so much for your responses! I understand I may be a bit naive right now and a bit too optimistic, haha. I'm just really excited to get into the profession. I have the upmost respect for you all nurses. You guys are my inspirations and heroes and seeing you guys all out there working during this pandemic makes me realize even more of how passionate I am to become one of you guys. I think you guys are the most amazing people with the coolest jobs! Thanks again for all your hard work and I hope you and families stay well and healthy!