I was at the top of the pay scale as an RN, and my husband is a firefighter – not the highest paying profession by far. We were doing okay financially, but sometimes we were living paycheck to paycheck.
After 20 years in nursing, my career had gone a little stale so I decided to enroll in Vickie Milazzo Institute’s CLNC Online Certification Program. Nursing is a fabulous profession. Exacting, exhausting and fun, but I no longer felt challenged. I was coasting. I didn’t want to coast. I wanted to use my brain and my full potential.
I was at the point where I couldn’t see myself doing the same thing for the next 20 years. I would be happier doing work that was more fulfilling, work I could be proud of and feel good about. I was also reading Vickie’s book, Wicked Success Is Inside Every Woman, and her concept of living a passionate life really hit home. I started asking RNs at work, “Are you passionate about what you do?” Most said, “No. It pays the bills.” I wanted to be passionate about my nursing career.
While I was in the process of marketing to attorneys, a surprise came from nearer at hand. Someone within the legal department of the hospital where I work heard that I was a Certified Legal Nurse Consultant. They invited me to apply for a position with them.
Just like that, an unexpected opportunity. Not the direction I intended, to be sure, but maybe this was why I took the CLNC Certification Program. So I applied and was offered a salaried position as a Clinical Risk Consultant. It came with an immediate raise, bumping my annual $90,000 salary up to $105,000.
I was excited, but where did the legal nurse consulting business I wanted to develop fit in? While I was still glowing from the job offer, an attorney called. He expressed that he had been hospital defense counsel for 20 years and was now working for a plaintiff firm. “I want to gear my practice for specializing in pediatrics and neonatal injuries,” he said. “Since that’s your specialty, I believe we might be a good fit.”
He was right. My primary nursing expertise for the entire 20 years of my career had been in pediatrics. He gave me one case, and before I even started working on it, he called the next day and gave me two more. I used the Institute’s Case Screening Form and followed the report writing process defined in the Core Curriculum for Legal Nurse Consulting® textbook. I then met with the attorney in his office to discuss the first case and deliver the report. His immediate response was that for such a high quality work product, I wasn’t charging enough at $125/hr.
The second case, however, was the one that worried me. It involved a mom with preterm, pre-ruptured membranes that were being monitored, and while hospitalized she ended up losing the baby. Convinced that her baby’s death could have been prevented, she wanted to sue the hospital.
After reviewing the records and the fetal monitor strips, however, I felt the case was not meritorious. Had extraordinary measures been taken and extraordinary monitoring done, could this situation have been prevented? Well, maybe so, but there were no deviations from the standards of care. Appropriate monitoring was done. Yet how I could go to this attorney (who was paying me and expecting me to find something he could work with) and say it was not meritorious? I was nervous. I had to drum up some extra courage.
“Don’t be afraid to give your opinion,” I remembered Vickie saying. “Don’t be wishy-washy. It’s meritorious or it’s not. Just give a firm opinion.” With that in mind, I was able to walk the attorney through the record, pointing out the protocols and policies and showing that the hospital had adhered to standards of care. Satisfied with my opinion, he said, “Okay. I guess there’s not much of a case here.”
Suddenly, everything came together better than I could have expected. Within three months – beginning with an excellent salaried position, then a great response from my first attorney-client, my life had turned around.
For those first two cases, I charged $125/hr, wanting to make sure I was giving quality for my fee. After telling me it was a great value, the attorney expressed that he was pleased to have found me at a reasonable price because I was going to help him launch the next phase of his career. “I have a lot of cases for you to screen,” he said. “So don’t double your prices yet. Let me win a few first.” For the third case, he requested a longer, detailed report. He also gave me an excellent reference.
Will I feel challenged and gratified by this new work I’m doing? That was my reason for changing nursing specialties, after all. I was also looking for a way to get out of debt.
At the hospital, besides my normal hours, I’d been picking up extra evening hours in the ICU. At 42 years old, I did not want to do that for the next ten years just to pay for my kid’s baseball activities. Now I make my own hours, and it works really well. I’m a morning person, so I get up an hour before my normal tasks. My kids, nine and eleven, are still sleeping. They don’t even notice. In addition to a salary increase of more than 10%, my first three cases earned extra income of about $4,500 in one month. I’m kicking debt out the door.
I love the professionalism of what I do now in my legal nurse consulting business. I love wearing a suit, looking like I belong in a professional world and approaching attorneys with confidence. I love to learn, interpret medical records and write reports.
Already I’ve gained self-assurance in myself, in the knowledge I have as an RN, and I know I can make a difference in the legal maneuverings that take place in the medical world. Being a Certified Legal Nurse Consultant is not only challenging but also an immensely gratifying next phase for my nursing career.
Guest Blogger Profile
Rebekah Wagenschutz, RN, BSN, CLNC owns Wagenschutz & Associates, LLC. Rebekah has been a pediatric nurse for twenty years, primarily in critical care. She is a Certified Professional Coder and her legal nurse consulting business focuses on pediatric injury and malpractice cases.
P.S. Comment here to congratulate Rebekah on her CLNC Success.