Can a Nurse be Fired for Refusing to Care for a Patient?

Can a Nurse be Fired for Refusing to Care for a Patient?

Nurses have been at the forefront of the recent Ebola wave of news. This brought to my attention the question, “Can a nurse be fired for refusing to care for a patient?” While we have learned that in most hospitals the nurses that cared for Ebola patients did so on a voluntary basis, it does not mean this will always be the case. When Ebola, or another deadly disease, run rampant across our country, most states require nurses to care for those patients or risk being fired, or even placing their nursing license in jeopardy.


When the Next Major Pandemic Occurs

You’ll notice I said “when” because it’s not a matter of “if.” It will happen.  The only question is when. Experts believe the next major pandemic will not be an evolution of a current virus, but rather a hybrid of several viruses. The popular theory is that some version of the flu will hold the title. Regardless of whether we speculate on possibilities like the common cold, or a full-blow Zombie Apocalypse, it is still a matter of “when” and not “if.” Which is scary considering that nurses are told they do not have a choice in whether they care for patients, even if they do not feel well-equipped to do so.


Interview with a Nurse Lawyer

I had the pleasure to sit down with Jamie Davis, The Nursing Show, and Lorie Brown, a nurse lawyer and blogger at Empowered Nurses, to discuss the topic recently. It’s a conversation you won’t want to miss.

Some key takeaways from the video include:

  • In most states, a nurse can be fired for refusing to care for a patient (regardless of the reason).
  • If you are fired for refusing to care for a patient you must disclosure this information to the board of nursing when you are renewing your license.
  • If you are fired for refusing to care for a patient, you must disclosure this information on any future employment applications you submit for a nursing job. Failure to do so is fraud.
  • A healthcare worker falls into “Master and Servant” relationship which is common law.
  • Refusing to take an assignment for a patient, even if you have not stepped in a room, is patient abandonment (no matter what your nursing instructor told you).


Should a Nurse Have the Ability to Refuse to Care for a Patient?

As a nurse, and individual who has always had the need to have a “choice” in any matter, it pains me to think that someday somewhere a nurse is going to be forced to provide care for a patient they have not been trained to care for. It breaks my heart to consider the arguments that a nurse can present about the safety level of the patient and nurse that will be ignored. It absolutely devastates me to think that one day my brother and sister nurses are going to be asked to put themselves in a potentially deadly situation out of fear of the loss of their job or license.

There are others who do not share the same opinion on whether a nurse should be allowed to refuse to care for a patient. In fact, in my conversations on social media, I have found most think a nurse should not have the right to refuse to care for any patient for any reason. The public and many nurses tend to believe that allowing a nurse to refuse to care for any patient is a slippery slope. I agree. It could get really tricky to determine who would refuse to care for a patient because they didn’t want the workload or they weren’t trained properly. There has to be a compromise that keeps both nurses and patients safe.


Do you think a nurse should be forced to care for a patient?