Legal Eagle for Children

samantha steiner"My nursing experience taught me a strong work ethic that I was able to carry on through law school."—Samantha Steiner



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It's 4:00 a.m. and the ring of Samantha Steiner's cell phone jars her from a deep sleep.

On the other end is one of her many "clients" from Children's Healthcare of Atlanta. A social worker wants to clarify who can give informed consent for a procedure for a child brought to the hospital by her grandmother. The child's parents are divorced with a complicated custody order.

The early hour and complex question are common for Steiner 05OX 07N JD, who has grown accustomed to being on call 24/7 as a risk manager for Children's three hospitals and 22 outlying facilities. The former emergency room nurse shares call with four other risk managers who help hospital staff navigate the legal challenges in health care today. 

"We deal with a broad spectrum of what goes on in the hospital—it could be a security issue, a consent or custody matter, or handling difficult family situations," Steiner says.  "Sometimes, the staff member just wants to give me a heads up. Other times, they want advice and want to make sure I'm okay with how they're dealing with a situation." She also helps educate staff about policies regarding end-of-life issues, safety, and other areas of the law. 

Growing up in Duluth, Georgia, Steiner was fascinated by the intersection of health care (her mother is a respiratory therapist at Emory University Hospital) and law (several relatives are attorneys). By her second year of nursing school, she was seriously considering pursuing law as well and was encouraged by her mentor, nursing faculty member Corrine Abraham 85MN DNP RN. In 2009, Steiner enrolled in an accelerated program at the University of Dayton School of Law in Ohio and earned her juris doctorate two years later.

Her education is ongoing, says Steiner, who notes that risk management is a gray area of health care. Originally focused on insurance and risk analysis, risk managers of today also deal with complex regulatory issues and interact with almost every discipline, including in-house counsel, security staff, quality and patient safety, social workers, physicians, nurses, and educators.   

Issues involving children are often more complex than those for adults since children cannot make their own medical decisions. "It's often unclear who can consent for a minor's treatment," says Steiner. "We deal with families from many different backgrounds, so I help social workers sort through court orders to determine who can make medical decisions."

Her nursing background and experience come in handy in her job. "At Children's, we deal with many complicated medical issues, so my training at Emory definitely helps," she says. "Knowing how to read medical records saves time when a physician comes to me with a concern and lets us move quickly past the medical piece. My nursing experience taught me a strong work ethic that I was able to carry on through law school. Having real-world nursing experience first made me tougher."—MG

Table of Contents

Cover of Emory Nursing Magazine