When Should I Self-Report?
In the last few months, I've consulted with nurses who were told by their charge nurse or director of nursing that they must self-report alleged errors immediately. My jaw drops when I hear some of these stories. Let me give you one example. A nurse was blamed for missing narcotics. The DON promptly accused the nurse of being a drug user, and told this nurse to contact the Nevada State Board of Nursing that day. This nurse was also told that if it was not reported right away, that by the weekend, the police would show up at the residence, arrest the nurse, and if young children were left at home without adult supervision, they could be placed in foster care!
Although this may one of the more extreme scare tactics I've come across (and false, by the way), it's a common concern I've been hearing from nurses: do I need to self report as ordered by my superior? Fortunately, some nurses have the presence of mind not to panic but to contact an attorney and seek legal advice before submitting to these demands.
What I'm about to say comes from observation and experience. I have not reviewed the statutory duties of a nurse concerning self-reporting before writing these thoughts, however, my views have been formed after many years of helping nurses. And, I might add, each case is different, so do not draw specific conclusions in your own case. Seek legal advice.
In my opinion, there are only a two scenarios I've come across when a nurse should self-report about an alleged violation (excluding self-reporting when your license renewal is due and you need to answer the Board's questions truthfully). The first situation is the failure to renew your license in a timely manner; report that immediately and take care of it. The second scenario is if you have a drug or alcohol addiction or problem. Someday, it's going to catch up with you. Someday, you are going to need to clean up your act. If you self-report your problem to the Board BEFORE someone finds out and reports you, it shows a clear desire on your part to correct the problem and get better. If you self-report, the Board will place you act quickly to help you get cleaned up, and the benefit is that once you come back online and able to practice again, it will remain a private matter and there will not be a public record made of it. This is a huge benefit that should be strongly considered. For example, the NSBN could suspend your license for 90 days while you check into a treatment center and sober up/manage your addiction. Thereafter, you follow a regimen with observation to avoid returning to old habits. It'ss a WIN-WIN situation.
However, if procrastinate, and wait until you are caught, you will face public humiliation, job loss, and strict probationary terms for year, maybe even suspension of yoru license indefinitely. The Board is justifiably concerned about the public safety and the well-being of patients. Drugs and nurses, or alcohol and nurses, don't mix. Get help now!
Other than these two exceptions to self-reporting, I can't think of any other factual scenarios where I felt self-reporting was beneficial to the nurse's case. I'm not saying it wouldn't be taken in to consideration and help lighten the terms of a reprimand or discipline if a violation really occurred, I just haven't seen a case like that yet--and I've handled alot of cases.
One of the big problems with self-reporting is that most nurses, who have nothing to hide and want to fess up to their mistakes, go too far in their explanations, raising other issues that were not part of the original reason for self-reporting. The same goes for nurses who write back to the nursing board after a letter of complaint/investigation is received. Legal counsel can really help you remain focused in the issues raised and draft an appropriate response
The bottom line is, when someone at work insists that you self-report or suggests terrible things are going to happen to you if you don't, you owe it to yourself to seek the advice and counsel of an attorney before you do it. Learn what are all of your options from a private consultation with an experienced attorney, and then make an educated decision how to handle it. This is especially true when the allegations against you are either false or mixed with false allegations of misconduct.