RaDonda Vaught was found guilty of criminal negligence and abuse of an elder patient in May of 2022 after a deadly series of mistakes led to the death of Charlene Murphey, one of Vaught’s former patients in the ICU, in 2017. She was sentenced to three years of probation in one of the most closely watched trials in the nursing industry in recent memory. The Tennessee Nursing Board also revoked Vaught’s nursing license in 2021 before the conviction.
More than a year after the end of the trial, Vaught sat down with Good Morning America to talk about how the verdict has affected her life and the nursing industry as a whole.
Vaught administered the wrong medication to Murphey while working at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center. She was supposed to give her the sedative Versed but accidentally reached for vecuronium instead.
“What did I just do to this patient?” Vaught said of the moment she realized she made a mistake. “If I didn’t kill her, what kind of quality of life is she going to have after this? What is her family going to experience?”
Murphey’s condition deteriorated rapidly after the mistake even though Vaught reported the error right away. The patient passed away the next day.
“The moment you realize you make a mistake with a drug like that, and then you see this patient’s condition — it was immediately really bad,” Vaught said.
She was subsequently fired and stripped of her nursing licenses, but the hospital failed to report the mistake to state or federal officials.
“It is heart-wrenching to know that Ms. Murphey and her family were so horrifically let down. That will overwhelm any good that I ever did in my career,” Vaught continued. “They are the patient and the family that will live with me the most.”
Throughout the trial, Vaught maintained that she was distracted at the time of the mix-up because she was trying to do two things at once. “Anytime you have additional responsibility, that responsibility can be distracting.” Vaught said during the interview. “I allowed myself to split my focus into two different things at once.”
Her case has been the subject of fierce debate within the medical industry. Many professionals have protested the conviction. The American Nurses Association also wrote a letter asking the court to grant Vaught leniency due to the stressful conditions of the job.
“We are grateful to the judge for demonstrating leniency in the sentencing of Nurse Vaught. Unfortunately, medical errors can and do happen, even among skilled, well-meaning, and vigilant nurses and health care professionals,” the organization wrote along with the Tennessee Nurses Association.
Vaught reflected on all the attention she and her case have received over the last few years. She has been thrust into the national spotlight for all the wrong reasons.
“I think the whole world feels like I was a scapegoat,” Vaught said. “There’s a fine line between blame and responsibility, and in health care, we don’t blame. I’m responsible for what I failed to do. Vanderbilt is responsible for what they failed to do.”
But thousands of nurses from all over the country continue to highlight her story on social media to talk about how the trial has personally affected their careers.
“It really is the straw that broke the camel’s back, so to speak,” Erica Daniels, a nurse based in Las Vegas, said. “After everything nurses have been through the last two plus years, one thing after another– now to be charged criminally and convicted, why would anybody want to be a nurse now?”
For Daniels, the trial broke her faith in organizations. She no longer expects her employer to have her back if something were to go wrong at work.
“Any nurse could’ve been in her position,” Daniels continued. “Almost every nurse has had a medication error of some sort, or multiple throughout their career. That could be any one of us. We just resonate with it. We’re glad that it’s not us, but it could’ve been us.”
Now that the dust has settled, Vaught is trying to move on with her life and get back to the career she loves. She is currently in the process of appealing the Tennessee Board of Nursing’s decision to revoke her license. If she wins the appeal, she will receive a new trial with the board over the incidents that led to Murphey’s death in 2017.
In her defense, Vaught said she immediately took responsibility for the error. She also said the hospital directed nurses to use override codes when experiencing technical issues with electronic medication dispensers and that these policies ultimately contributed to the patient’s death.