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What is an Expert Witness?

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What is an Expert Witness?

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expert witness, expert witness qualifications, testifying expert witnessYou are an attorney seeking to hire an expert witness. What makes an expert? The standard legal definition is “A witness qualified as an expert by knowledge, skill, experience, training or education.“ Ideally, you want the expert to be skilled in all of these areas: a person with lots of years of clinical experience, well-credentialed and with terrific communication skills.

It is common for nurses to approach us wanting to be expert witnesses for Med League. This is what we look for in an expert.

Knowledge: We look for a person with a deep knowledge or the subject matter. Someone with hands-on knowledge will understand the nuances of care. Recently, we called an expert to ask about her knowledge of a particular drug. She said, “I have not given it, but I could become familiar with it.” We did not refer her to the attorney for this case, but we found a person who had conducted research about the drug, written about it and given it to patients.

Skill: The demanding role of being an expert witness requires highly attuned communication skills. We reject people who have typos on their CVs. Typos on CVs grate on us like chalk on chalkboards. That attention to details is so crucial in analyzing a medical malpractice case. One word on one page of a medical record can change the entire complexion of a case. The ability to think on your feet, to be persuasive, and to be analytical can make all the difference in a case. The ability to master writing, as evidenced by being published and crafting effective reports, is also essential.

Experience: It takes more than book knowledge to understand how the healthcare system runs. We look for people with years of experience in a clinical specialty. Recently, one of our experts turned down taking a case but said she had a colleague who had similar background. When we looked at her CV, she had less than 9 months of experience in her role and clinical area. She may become a great expert in the future, but she is too green to function as an expert witness now.

Training and education: College courses teach nurses to think in a different way than do associate and diploma programs. The exposure to liberal arts courses and the emphasis on writing papers stimulates the thought processes of a college student. We prefer an expert with an advanced degree, but a person with a masters fresh out of college with no hands on experience is not going to be as credible as an expert with an bachelors degree in nursing and 20 years of experience in the field. Ongoing on the job education sharpens the expert witness’s knowledge. Certification in a specialty area adds credibility. The studying that is needed to become board certified deepens an expert’s knowledge base.

“Both education and experience are necessary in life, though formal education gives one a head start that is necessary to succeed in future endeavors.” Vicki Lachman PhD, APRN, FAAN

Finally, the ideal expert is a lifelong learner. Health care changes rapidly. Experts slip behind without ongoing education. Your case demands a highly qualified person. Contact us for your expert witness needs.

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