From the desk of Adrianne Avillion, DEd, RN

Staff Development Weekly: Insight on Evidence-Based Practice in Education, March 5, 2010

Editor's note: Welcome to our new feature written by staff development expert Adrianne Avillion. Each week, Adrianne will write about an important issue in the area of staff development or answer reader questions. If you have a question for Adrianne, e-mail her at

Q: Am I legally responsible if a nurse fails to apply knowledge from one of my educational programs in the work setting?

No, you are not responsible for a nurse's failure to accurately apply knowledge in the actual work setting. However, you are responsible for the accuracy of the content you present, as well as the accuracy of the method you use to assess knowledge acquisition, and if applicable, behavior in the work setting.

For example, suppose you are teaching a course about new medications, their actions, dosage, side effects, etc., and there are mistakes in some of the content. Based on the erroneous information in your course, a nurse administers a medication incorrectly and a patient suffers harm. Both you and the clinician could be held liable. It may be argued that the nurse should have verified the information presented in the education program, however, it can also be argued that learners have a right to assume the information presented in your programs is accurate. You are legally responsible for the accuracy of the information you present.

Another example is the accurate assessment of knowledge acquisition. For example, let's say one of the requirements for a course is successful completion of a post-test and skill demonstration. One of the learners is a friend whose husband has recently died. She fails the post-test and begs you not to report the failure until she has a chance to study and retake the test. She explains she is just too stressed to take tests at this time. As a friend, you want to help her so you keep silent.

Later, this nurse makes a serious mistake, based on knowledge she failed to acquire as demonstrated by a failing score in the post-test. Although the clinician is certainly responsible for her mistakes, it can be argued that you are liable, too. You knew she had not demonstrated knowledge acquisition but concealed the information.

Remember, you are legally responsible for your own actions, so you must act accordingly.

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