Whistleblowing in Nursing

Nursing Knowledge

Whistleblowing in Nursing

Whistleblowing in nursing represents the ethical duty of nurses to report misconduct or unsafe practices that could harm patients. While challenging, it is an important tool to address systemic issues, from inadequate staffing to unethical behavior. Whistleblowing underscores the commitment of nurses to integrity, patient safety, and the betterment of the healthcare system.
Last updated: December 4, 2023


Remember the universal patient rights and the ethical principles that should guide every nurse's practice with this handy cheat sheet.

Table of contents

What is whistleblowing in nursing?

What is a nurse whistleblower?

A whistleblower is a person who exposes any kind of information or activity that is deemed illegal, unethical, or not correct within an organization that is either private or public. For a nurse, that would probably be practices or events in the work environment of a hospital, practice, or care home. 

Types of whistleblowing

There are 2 types of whistleblowing: 

  • Internal: a concern reported within the organization in the hope that the practice will stop and patients are protected
  • External: inside information provided to the state agency that licenses the healthcare facility, typically without approval from or knowledge of the facility 

Important considerations

It is important that the nurse whistleblower has clear evidence that what is being reported is illegal, unethical, or unsafe. The report must be accurate against not only the facility, but against specific individuals. The goal of the report always must be to correct the harmful conduct. 

If you are planning to report on misconduct, make sure to collect evidence first: 

  • Clearly document times, dates, persons
  • Consider partnering with another witness
  • Consult legal counsel before copying documents for evidence (possible company privacy policy violation) 

Risks for a nurse whistleblower

Whistleblowing comes with a high risk for the person who reports the improper acts. These risks include: 

  • Judgments of the whistleblower could be questioned, or suspicions lack evidence
  • Whistleblower might be blamed by association due to being part of the reported team
  • Future employment opportunities could be impacted

Note: Remember that blowing the whistle is a very serious matter. Do not blow the whistle frivolously. Make sure the facts are straight before taking action. Whistleblowing is both an ethical and a legal responsibility. 

What is the healthcare whistleblower protection act?

The Occupational Safety and Health Act is a federal law that protects workers from retaliation for complaining. Instead of a single piece of legislation, there are several laws and provisions in the United States that offer protections to whistleblowers within the healthcare sector, one of the most notable being the “False Claims Act.” 

Whistleblowing in nursing examples

Examples of unsafe practices or misconduct that could be reported in an act of whistleblowing include: 

  • Upcoding
  • Off-label marketing of drugs
  • Billing for doctor’s services when doctor was not present for procedure
  • Improper care, abuse, or neglect of children in state-run facilities
  • Unsafe staffing ratios
  • Covering up medical errors
  • Unsanitary conditions 

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Nursing Cheat Sheet

Remember the universal patient rights and the ethical principles that should guide every nurse’s practice with this handy cheat sheet.

Master the topic with a unique study combination of a concise summary paired with video lectures. 

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