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Will the RaDonda Vaught Guilty Verdict Make the Nursing Shortage Worse?

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Former nurse RaDonda Vaught was recently convicted of gross neglect of an impaired adult and negligent homicide in Tennessee after accidentally administering the wrong medication to a patient in 2017. The error led to the death of a 75-year-old patient. Vaught was working as a “help all” nurse at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center at the time of the incident.

She was supposed to administer Versed, a sedative, to the patient, but when the electronic medication cabinet failed to produce the right medication, she performed a manual override, which tends to be common due to software errors. She typed “VE” into the system and accidentally retrieved vecuronium, a powerful paralytic, instead.

Vaught faces three to six years in prison for her crime, according to sentencing guidelines provided by the Nashville district attorney’s office. Her sentence will be handed down on May 13.

It’s extremely rare for healthcare providers to face criminal charges for medical errors. These issues are usually handled by state licensing boards and may result in private lawsuits, but the case has already had a significant impact on the healthcare industry. Many nurses are suffering from burnout and fatigue, which can lead to medical errors.

Experts say the conviction could make the current nursing shortage worse by deterring potential recruits from pursuing a career in medicine. Existing nurses may also decide to quit if they feel they could be prosecuted for simple medical errors.  

Many nurses have commented on the case online. When asked if the guilty verdict would make them leave the nursing field, here’s what they said:

No. One case would not define my nursing career. And we are two different people. I make sure I double check everything. Never be in a rush when giving medications.

Stacy

Would love to leave nursing and healthcare altogether. But I have no idea where to go. And I’m so tired of getting the same old response of “Oh no, stay! We need good nurses.” Or the other one: “You don’t have to do bedside- you can do so many things in nursing.”

Neither of these responses are beneficial to me. So, if anyone has any career change suggestions that are actually for career changing, I’m all ears. But for the love of God, don’t give me one of the two answers I just mentioned.

Kelsie

I once loved my profession and wouldn’t know what else I would do. I always felt it was my “calling”. I don’t love it anymore, I can barely tolerate it most days. I love my patients and their families but sadly, it is no longer enjoyable for me. There are so many reasons to leave, and this case has really opened my eyes to our worth as nurses.

Tina

 Bedside nursing is something I’m never going to freely pursue. Hospitals are all about money and I don’t think it’s fair that I put all my money into a degree where I’m forced to take care of 7 patients on one shift. I love the medical field and taking care of patients. I was a medical assistant for 6 years before I got my nursing degree. I’m honestly hoping to break into public health.

Mary

I recommend every nurse refuse to override any process just for expediency. Keep calling the pharmacy and director of nursing for every issue with medication dispensary machines. Do not risk your license or patient safety.

Beth

It doesn’t make me want to quit nursing or bedside, I’m just now firm with watching out for my license.

Rosa

As a surgical tech, I considered it through the years off and on. Something kept telling me NO. Glad I listened to my intuition! I feel I can help people better as a tech. So, I’m perfectly content being “just a tech”.

Sara

No, but it would make me want to leave the bedside.

Lori

No. But it would make me enforce all the rules already upon nursing. No more shortcuts that sacrifice safety over time. The hospitals are benefiting from nurses that put themselves at risk in order to get it all done without adequate support. If all nurses followed every single safety and nursing practice guidelines no matter what, under current practices, this would create almost total operational gridlock. Have each other’s backs.

Hilary

I worked with a nurse who just left healthcare because of the case.

Carrie

Absolutely not! Nursing has always been a challenging job; it is vital not to override safety measures when administering patient care. Follow procedures, protocols, and policies they will help keep you and the patient safe. If the doctor wants it sooner, they can do the task themselves.

Amy

No, but have been in situations where I had to say, “We are not rushing, we are following protocol.” Sometimes you just need to speak up and not let people push you around.

Rosemarie

It’s difficult to do nursing activities safely if your patients are too demanding and impatient who thinks they have to have that pill the second they ask for it. As much as I enjoy bedside nursing, I find it too risky. Will probably leave bedside nursing soon once I’ll find something else I’m qualified at.

Nina

That’s not the main reason I’m leaving nursing. I’ve been a nurse for 40 yrs and was an aide for 6 yrs before that. So, after 46 yrs of being at the bedside, I’m burned out. The patients have gotten mean, uncooperative, demanding, verbally and physically abusive over the last 7 yrs. I’m leaving because right now I hate most patients. I have 6 shifts left.

Linda

I will not leave nursing at this moment but if they continue to pick apart what we do, I will. I will also leave if we don’t keep getting better pay and benefits.

Honestly her life should not have been ruined due to the mistake she made. She should have some classes and some serious training but jail time?! Really?! Come up with a better rehab plan for this poor girl who just wanted to help people, not hurt them.

It’s really the hospital they need to be looking at. Was her unit staffed adequately? Did she have the resources and training she needed? How many other distractions did she have at the moment? Who was talking to her? How many calls did she have coming into her Cisco phone? Was her patient being violent and uncontrollable? Was that patient a danger to staff? Had she had a break that day, what about lunch? How many days had she worked?

Nursing is broken!!! When will people realize this and praise nurses for doing the work they do?! Getting in trouble for a mistake is not ok. Look at the system that helped her make this mistake and fix the system we live in! It’s a nightmare out there.

We are already short nurses, start attacking us and the world will be in a lot of trouble. Pay us more!! Staff us adequately! Train properly and leave us the hell alone when we are extremely busy and let us focus on one task and one person for a moment to keep them safe!! THE SYSTEM IS BROKEN NOT THE NURSE!!!!!

Jessica

Thanks to everyone who shared their opinions online. These responses have been edited for length and clarity. 

Steven Briggs
Steven Briggs is a healthcare writer for Scrubs Magazine, hailing from Brooklyn, NY. With both of his parents working in the healthcare industry, Steven writes about the various issues and concerns facing the industry today.

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