Patricia A. Furci didn’t set out to become a lawyer. Her first love was nursing, and she dove into the field with passion. Eventually she earned a master’s degree in health administration and transitioned into hospital operations. But in 1993, the mother of three successfully underwent treatment for a brain tumor. Needing flexible hours, she started her own consulting business. Furci enrolled in a master’s of science in jurisprudence program at Seton Hall University Law School geared to health professionals, but did not finish. “I got an A-plus in the first class. The people running the program said, ‘You’re in the wrong program. Go take your LSATs,’ ” recalls Furci, 56. She received her J.D. from Seton Hall in 2002 with a concentration in health law. Today she has her own firm and is in-house counsel at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital and Palisades Medical Center. Furci, a member of the New Jersey State Bar Association, also teaches a course on the legal aspects of nursing at Seton Hall’s College of Nursing.
Q. Why did you become an RN?
A. My mother was my role model, and in an emergency she always knew what to do. She was always confident and secure whenever anyone was sick or injured. She wasn’t a nurse, but I went to nursing school in order to emulate her. I was valedictorian of my class at Christ Hospital School of Nursing in Jersey City.
Q. What attracted you to critical care?
A. I loved the complexity of the decision-making involved and working with other members of the health team.
Q. How did you react when your professor suggested you go to law school?
A. I had just gotten over a brain tumor. I had no confidence I could be a lawyer — nobody in my family had been a lawyer. But I knew nursing, I knew hospital operations, I knew how to run departments, and I understood government regulations. And all of a sudden I realized I wanted to be in-house counsel at a hospital.
Q. Does your nursing background give you an advantage in your work as an attorney?
A. Yes. Being a nurse, I can go through a chart in minutes and pick up what the problem is. I can call doctors, and speak their language. I can read their writing. I can explain what is happening to the court.
Q. What kind of cases do you get involved in?
A. Most of my work concerns individual patients: guardianships, powers of attorney, advance directives, how to handle cerebral death, how to bury people without next-or-kin, what to do when you have a Jehovah’s Witness baby who needs a blood transfusion, what to do when the patient is not competent and has no representative to make a decision, and his children are in conflict. There are people with immigration problems. And then you have the homeless — you can’t discharge them to the street. We have to have a safe discharge plan.
Q. It sounds like you tie up a lot of sad endings.
A. Some are sad. Some are good. You get to see patients leave the hospital and get into long-term care, and you know if you hadn’t been there, they would not have had a voice.
Q. A nurse’s first duty is always to the patient. Can you say the same about a hospital?
A. Yes. Under the law they have to acknowledge and respect patient rights.
Q. But is there ever a time when what a hospital wants is not the best thing for the patient?
A. I’ll be honest. A hospital can be on me, saying, “We’re getting killed on this patient.” (For example, when the patient has been there a long time and does not require acute care.) I will say, “You have to do things the right way. We are not going to let them go to the street.”
Q. In this situation, are you a nurse or a lawyer?
A. I’m a lawyer, but my heart is in nursing. I’m a good advocate. I get up every morning, and love what I do. I’m a happy camper.