Legal Eagle Eye Newsletter for the Nursing Profession(5)11 Nov 97


   Quick Summary: A non-licensed office assistant cannot administer medications, give injections or perform pediatric immunizations.

   A licensed nurse can take phone calls from mothers about their sick children, do phone triage, counsel patients about their healthcare concerns, and offer them medical advice. APPELLATE COURT OF ILLINOIS, 1997.


   The Appellate Court of Illinois, in a recent opinion, went to some lengths to explain how a non-licensed medical assistant had obtained a position in a medical clinic which previously had been filled by a registered nurse with a pediatric specialty.

   The medical assistant had worked in pediatric clinics for nearly two decades after completing a college-level medical assistant program with an emphasis in pediatric care. She knew the pediatric nurse who had the position, and was contacted by a physician and asked to take over the position when the pediatric nurse resigned.

   The physician apparently assumed the medical assistant was a licensed nurse. But then three years later a new office manager asked for the medical assistant’s nursing license, which was conspicuously absent from the clinic’s files. She had no license, and was reported to the state nursing board.

   It could not be proven in court beyond a reasonable doubt that the medical assistant had ever claimed or pretended to be a nurse. To uphold her criminal conviction for unlicensed nursing practice, however, the court did not need proof she had misrepresented that she had a nursing license.

   In the clinic the medical assistant had performed tasks which required a nursing license. Falsely claiming or leading others to believe one is a licensed nurse is illegal, but it is not the only way to violate the law.

   The medical assistant was performing nursing functions illegally without an RN or LPN license. Giving injections and immunizations to pediatric patients and doing physical assessments, that is, weighing and measuring babies, cannot be done by a non-licensed person, the court ruled. She had also been doing phone triage of patients, had been giving specific medical advice to mothers about their sick children, and had been offering general advice to patients, such as how to deal with feeding problems and when to switch babies from formula to solid foods. A non-licensed person cannot counsel patients about their healthcare concerns, according to the court.

   Direct physician supervision of a nursing function being carried out by a non-licensed person does not take non-licensed nursing practice out of the scope of the nursing practice act or make it legal, the court ruled. Drawing blood is a task which does not require a nursing license, the court said. People vs. Stults, 683 N.E. 2d 521 (Ill. App., 1997).