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I'm an RN with an active license, but I haven't practiced for several years. Although I have no experience in trauma or emergency nursing, I've been asked to train to become a volunteer first responder (not a paramedic or emergency medical technician). First responders clearly don't have the knowledge and skills of an RN. If a patient is injured while I'm caring for him as a volunteer first responder, would I be held to the standard of care for RNs, even though I have no background in trauma or emergency nursing?-L. A., VA.


Our legal consultant says that if you were sued for harming someone in your role as a volunteer, a court wouldn't ignore your knowledge base as an RN, regardless of your experience. Most likely, you'd be held to the professional standard, which means you're expected to act as any reasonably prudent nurse would act. So before you proceed, ask some hard questions. For example, are first responders immune from liability in your state? Does the volunteer agency have an insurance policy that would cover you? Do you have personal liability insurance-and if so, does it cover you as a volunteer? When in doubt, consult an attorney who can counsel you on legal risks in your jurisdiction.

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