Journal of Professional Nursing

The Myth Of Medical Liability For Nursing Practice     

Jenny Carryer, RN, PhD, FCNA(NZ), MNZM, Professor (Nursing),  Executive Director, College of Nurses Aotearoa (NZ)   


Michal Boyd, RN, ND, NP™, FCNA(NZ)  Senior Lecturer, Auckland University of Technology 

Carryer J., & Boyd, M. (2003). The myth of medical  liability for nursing practice. Nursing Praxis in New  Zealand, 19(3), 4-12.   



The myth of medical liability for nursing practice is widespread among doctors,  nurses and the public at large. This myth is promulgated by the medical profession  in various forums and is an artefact of the lingering stereotype of nurse as  “handmaiden”. In fact, nurses are autonomous practitioners who do not require  supervision by other health professionals when practicing within their designated  scope. The question of medical liability for nursing practice has been fuelled recently  in New Zealand by the development of the Nurse Practitioner™ role and the advent  of nurse prescribers. This discussion explores the complexities of liability issues  in the case of standing orders and vicarious liability by employers, as well as when  nurses and doctors are in management roles. This discourse challenges the myths  about medico-legal responsibility for nursing practice and invites nurses to challenge  liability assumptions in public media, personal practice environments and policymaking  arenas.   

Key Words: Professional liability, vicarious liability, nursing practice   


This paper was prompted by a  conversation that one of the present  authors (Jenny Carryer) had with a  provincial city general practitioner  (GP) last year. The occasion was a  primary health care conference. In  discussing a previous nursing  presentation the general practitioner  noted that if nurses were going to take  on advanced roles, they would have  to become responsible for their  practice now, including purchasing  professional liability insurance. I  commented that indeed they always  had been responsible and were  certainly insured. She argued that  on the contrary she, as a GP, was  “responsible for the work of her (sic)  nurses, physiotherapists and anyone  else who provided care to her (sic)  patients”.  In this article we plan to address the  issue of liability for practice, aiming  Nursing Praxis in New Zealand Vol. 19 No. 3 2003 Page 5  to dispel some of the myths and  misconceptions which arise in  practice settings, and which are  frequently embedded in media  pronouncements giving rise to both  public and professional  misunderstandings. Continued 

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