Nursing Law & Legal Definition


The practice of nursing as a registered professional nurse is defined as diagnosing and treating human responses to actual or potential physical and emotional health problems, through such services as casefinding, health teaching, health counseling, and provision of care supportive to or restorative of life and wellbeing, and executing medical regimens as prescribed by a licensed or otherwise legally authorized physician or dentist.

Nursing includes professionals in clinical nursing, nursing management, healthcare quality assurance and healthcare risk management. Many legal issues focus on nurses’ professional negligence, employment, discrimination and licensing. Nurse Practice Acts (NPAs) are laws in each state that are overseen by the state boards of nursing. They are also responsible for licensing of nurses and determining who is competent to practice nursing. Common Law is derived from principles or social mores rather than from rules and regulations. It consists of broad, interpretive principles based on reason, traditional justice and common sense. Together, the NPAs and judge made case law define nursing practice. It is a nurse's responsibility to be informed on both the NPA and common law of judicial case law for the state(s) in which they are licensed to practice.

Abandonment results when the nurse-patient relationship is terminated without making reasonable arrangements with an appropriate person so that nursing care by others can be continued. An example of a legal definition states as follows:

"Abandoning or neglecting a patient or client under and in need of immediate professional care, without making reasonable arrangements for the continuation of such care, or abandoning a professional employment by a group practice, hospital, clinic or other health care facility, without reasonable notice and under circumstances which seriously impair the delivery of professional care to patients or clients."

 Some of the factors considered include:

  • Did the nurse accept the patient assignment, creating a nurse-patient relationship?
  • Did the nurse provide reasonable notice before terminating the nurse-patient relationship?
  • Could reasonable arrangements have been made for continuation of nursing care by others when proper notification was given?

In most cases, the following situations are not examples of abandonment:

  • Refusing to accept responsibility for a patient assignment(s) when the nurse has given reasonable notice to the proper agent that the nurse lacks competence to carry out the assignment.
  • Refusing the assignment of a double shift or additional hours beyond the posted work schedule when proper notification has been given.