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    Case Study: Unprofessional Conduct and Interfering with the Patient-Physician Relationship in Nursing

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    In the mid 1970s, a nursing educator in Idaho had contact, through a student, with a female client who had chronic myelogenous leukemia. This form of leukemia can often be managed for years with little or no chemotherapy. The woman had done well for about twelve years and ascribed her good condition to health foods and a strict nutritional regime. However, her condition had turned worse several weeks before and her physician had advised her that she needed chemotherapy if she were to have any chance at survival. The physician had also advised her of the potential side effects of the therapy including hair loss, nausea, fever, and immune system suppression.

    The woman consented to the therapy and signed the appropriate forms, but later, she began to have second thoughts. The nursing educator and student had given the patient one dose of the therapy when the woman began to cry and express her reservations about the therapy. She questioned the nurse about alternative treatments to the use of chemotherapy. The patient related that she had accepted the therapy because her son had advised her that this was the best treatment. She related that she had not asked about alternate forms of treatment as the physician had indicated that chemotherapy was the only treatment indicated. The nurse did not discuss the patient's concerns with the physician, and later that evening, she talked to the patient about alternate therapies. In the discussion, rather nontraditional and controversial therapies were covered including reflexology and the use of laetrile. During the talk, the nurse made it very clear that the treatments under discussion were not sanctioned by the medical community.

    The patient's feelings toward alternate therapies were strengthened by the evening's conversation; however, she continued with chemotherapy. The treatments, however, did not bring remission to her crisis and she died two weeks later. Upon hearing about the conversation between the off duty nurse educator and his patient, the physician brought charges against the nurse for unprofessional conduct and interfering with the patient-physician relationship. (In re Tuma, 1977).
    1. What, if anything, did the nurse do wrong?
    2. Had she moved beyond her scope of practice?
    3. Could the nurse's conduct be justified under the patient advocate portion of her role?
    4. If you were a member of the state board for nursing and had to decide the issue of unprofessional conduct and interference with the patient-physician relationship, would you sanction the nurse?

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    Solution Preview

    1. What, if anything, did the nurse do wrong?
    The nurse has advised the patient of alternate therapies and this discussion of nontraditional and controversial therapies like reflexology and the use of laetrile. This may be perceived by the doctor as interference in the relationship between the doctor and the patient. In the lawsuit this was interpreted as "Tuma guilty of unprofessional conduct -- rather it was a hearing officer, who, so far as the record shows, was not a nurse, and hence if not a nurse, not possessed of that expertise born of "personal knowledge and experience" which would have enabled him albeit after the fact, to determine from what he heard of Tuma's conduct that she had indeed acted unprofessionally"
    2. Had she moved beyond her scope of practice?
    The scope of the practice is defined by the law thus :

    In direct patient care the registered professional nurse shall:
    1. Assess and evaluate health status of the individual based ...

    Solution Summary

    This solution discusses the duties of nurses for direct patient care and the nurses breach of these duties in approximately 600 words.