June 22, 2015 | | Comments 0
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Not My Job: The legal perspective on updating job descriptions

As a nurse manager, how often do you review the duties and responsibilities laid out in your staff job descriptions? The human resources department may “own” the files, but you probably review them when you have an open position. From a legal perspective, though, job descriptions deserve more regular scrutiny to ensure that duties align with your organization’s policies and procedures, and meet the standard of care.

For example, if new procedures have been introduced, staff must be trained, checklist2competencies documented, and job descriptions updated to support the revised standard of care. In the event of a patient injury, one of the first things the patient’s attorney will do is look for gaps in the standard of care, so you must be proactive in this area.

Dinah Brothers, RN, JD, suggests that, at a minimum, you review your staff’s job descriptions once a year. In addition, you must revise your staff’s job descriptions whenever any one of the following occurs:

  1. When there are professionally recognized changes to the standard of care
  2. When new medical advancements are accepted and implemented at your facility
  3. When new technology is implemented in your facility
  4. When policies and procedures change in your facility that impact the nurse’s role and/or job responsibilities change

For a quick start, provide the staff on your unit with the relevant job descriptions to review and ask for their feedback. These current employees know the skills needed to perform on the unit and will be able to evaluate the job description critically.

Evaluate the feedback you receive from your employees, and compare it with your own assessment of the job description criteria. If updates need to be made to the job description, share the edits with your supervisor, and work with human resources to add the changes.

Distribute the finalized version to your nursing staff. If, as a result of a change in the job description, there are new competencies which must be demonstrated, they must be done at this time so that nurses are practicing within the standard of care that is established by the newly implemented job description. Ask each staff member to sign a letter acknowledging and committing to adhere to the updated standard and place a copy in the employee’s file.

UPDATE (6/25/2015): Check back next week for a link to download a sample update confirmation letter that you can use every time you follow Dinah’s advice!


Dinah Brothers, RN, JD, is the author of The Essential Legal Handbook for Nurses (release: end of June 2015), sold as a set of 10 handbooks for staff nurses,  and The Nurse Manager’s Legal Companion (release: July 2015), a book offering nurse managers guidance on everything from employment law to dealing with whistleblowers and everything in between.

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Filed Under: LeadershipLegal issuesNursing professional standards

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About the Author: Claudette Moore is an acquisitions editor at HCPro, focusing primarily on nursing topics. She is always looking for new books that will create a better workplace for nurses and their managers, so contact her if you would like to publish with HCPro.

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