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 

Reference:  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.   

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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