Legal Bootcamp to Illustrate What Happens When ED Nurses Take the Witness Stand

Several sessions at Emergency Nursing 2022 aim to quell any uneasiness emergency nurses might feel if they’re subpoenaed to be a fact witness at a trial involving a patient they’ve treated.

Heidi Gilbert
Heidi Gilbert

The Legal Bootcamp, scheduled for 4:30 to 6 p.m. on Oct. 1, will include a presentation on courtroom practices, a mock trial and small group breakout sessions where participants can practice taking the witness stand.

“Nurses have a lot of anxiety when we get a subpoena,” said Heidi Gilbert, who has been a sexual assault nurse examiner for the past decade and has testified as a witness several times in her career. “That’s not something that’s taught in nursing school, and we’re anxious about the unknown in that area, just like our patients are anxious in our area, in the emergency department.”

And just as ED nurses work to assuage the fears and anxieties of their patients, Gilbert wants to do the same for nurses who are called to testify, an experience bound to happen to most emergency nurses at some point because they are on the frontline of caring for crime victims and perpetrators. 

“I want to show nurses it’s really not that scary,” she said. “You are there to speak to your knowledge — your expertise — and what you did in the care of a patient.”

In another legal-themed session, Andrew Luxen and Michelle Metz will explain the types of court cases and the basics of courtroom etiquette, including what to wear for a court appearance, in “Subpoena?! Testifying Skills for Nurses.” This session will be held from 3:30 to 4:15 p.m. Mountain time on Oct. 1 in Rooms 401-404 and livestreamed from Denver for those who have registered for Digital Access. 

Luxen and Metz also plan to discuss the pitfalls and challenges emergency nurses might face, such as condescending, confusing or leading questions, as well as how to recognize and handle such questions. 

An emergency nurse might receive a subpoena for cases involving patients suspected of driving while intoxicated or involved in motor vehicle crashes or assaults. 

Gilbert’s mock trial session will feature prosecutors from the Denver District Attorney’s Office questioning an emergency nurse. 

“We’re going to go over things like legal blood draws,” said Gilbert, a member of the Emergency Nursing Conference Education Planning Committee. “That is probably the most common thing nurses are called to court for. We’ll also go over how you confidently introduce yourself to the court and some of the questions the attorney usually asks about your credentials, education and work experience.” 

The session also will cover how to address the jury, not the attorney, when responding to questions.

“That is, ultimately, your audience in court,” Gilbert said. “As emergency nurses we do patient education all the time, and basically your role in court is to teach. So, simple things like explaining what triage is and explaining what a contusion is.”

Participants then will break into small groups where several assistant district attorneys will answer questions and provide feedback to those who choose to take the witness stand for a roleplaying experience. 

Conference programmers have consistently heard calls for conference programs about the legal aspect of nursing, Gilbert said. 

“This is the first time we are going to have this professional education with someone in prosecution,” she said. “It is a unique opportunity, and I hope to see a lot of faces there.” 

A third legal-themed session at Emergency Nursing 2022 will be “When Your Words Come Back and Bite You!” The session examines how certain errors can open a nurse to questions about the care that was, or was not, given in the ED. Presenters will look at several ED legal or quality cases, discussing what went wrong and how good charting saved, or could have saved, the nurse. The session will be held from 9:45 to 10:30 a.m. Mountain time on Oct. 2 in rooms 501-502-503-504.

Best Practices in ED Leadership and Management: Panel Session

Oct. 29:15-10:15 a.m.
Rooms 103-105

ED leaders are responsible for ensuring patient care is provided in a competent, efficient, impartial, and empathetic manner. Experts in ED management and operations will share leadership tips for current or aspiring managers on topics including ED operations, human resources, legal and regulatory issues, and quality and safety.

When Your Words Come Back and Bite You!

Oct.29:45-10:30 a.m.
Rooms 501-502-503-504

Some errors can open up a nurse for patients and others to question the care that was, or was not, given in the ED. This session will look at several ED legal or quality cases, discussing what went wrong and how good charting saved, or could have saved, the nurse.

Register Today for Emergency Nursing 2023

 Registration for Emergency Nursing 2023 is still open! Level up with ENA and thousands of your emergency nursing peers in sunny San Diego on Sept. 21-23. Attendees can look forward to immersive experiences with hands-on learning opportunities, high-quality sessions, networking events and can’t-miss celebrations sure to propel their careers onward and upward.