A nurse manager reviews medical records with a nurse.

Risk Management in Nursing: Career Opportunities


While providing medical care, health care providers must keep patients and staff safe. Still, nearly 43 million adverse events—such as misdiagnoses, medication errors, or infections—occur during medical treatment each year, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Many events are preventable. Health care facilities and their staff have protocols that ensure patient and worker safety. By managing certain risks, they can minimize the likelihood of adverse events and other issues that impact the care quality and efficiency, employee safety, and exposure to liability and malpractice lawsuits.

As clinicians and patient advocates, nurses are often at the front lines of risk management practices in health care. They set an example for their organizations, and help develop and implement safety protocols that protect both patients and staff. Risk management in nursing is of vital importance to health care providers, along with the nurse leaders responsible for putting those practices into action.

A nursing degree, such as aa Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), can help individuals gain the knowledge and skills to make health care environments safer for themselves and their patients.

What Is Risk Management in Nursing?

Roughly 40% of patients in primary and ambulatory care settings worldwide experience safety issues, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Risk management can help health care providers avoid such issues, with nurses often playing a central role. So, what is risk management in nursing?

Risk management involves analyzing existing practices and processes, identifying potential risks, and developing and enacting procedures to address them. Nurses’ clinical knowledge and close involvement in the daily operations of many health care settings make them uniquely qualified to carry this out.Each year, millions of patients sustain injuries or die due to errors during care delivery, according to the WHO. These include:

  • Incorrectly prescribed medication
  • Health care-related infections
  • Surgical errors
  • Misdiagnoses
  • Blood clots

Effective risk management strategies—involving the use of a centralized reporting system for communication between departments—can reduce the occurrence of these and other errors to protect patient health and safety. Strategies may include safeguarding processes that catch potential medication errors, or enhance communication with patients regarding treatment.

Risk management strategies may differ depending on the setting. In a long-term care facility where the patient population is older and frailer, the focus often is on preventing injury from falls and issues related to dehydration and malnutrition. In a laboratory, risk management strategies may involve minimizing exposure to hazardous chemicals and other materials.

Other Benefits of Risk Management in Nursing

Though protecting patient safety is risk management’s primary goal, it offers other benefits. By minimizing the likelihood of medical errors, risk management strategies can protect providers from malpractice and liability lawsuits, which can take a significant financial toll on health care organizations. Thousands of medical malpractice claims are filed each year. The average cost of a malpractice claim in the United States increased by about 50% since 2009, according to Beazley, an insurer of hospital professional liability. The number of claims above $5 million has significantly increased over the past several years.

Globally, the financial fallout from safety failures is enormous, accounting for 15% of hospital expenditure and activity, according to OECD. Patient harm resulting from safety failures can impact the broader economy as well. The estimated cost of patients needing to take time off or leave the workforce altogether due to safety failures amounts to trillions of dollars each year. Safeguarding against these issues is imperative for health care providers to maintain costs. In many cases, the cost of prevention is much less than the cost of failure.

Risk Management Issues in Nursing

Effective risk management in nursing focuses on noncompliance, poor recordkeeping, data security, and nurse fatigue as top issues.


Health care providers must comply with a vast and complex array of laws and regulations governing their daily operations. Failure to do so can compromise patient safety, violate patient privacy, and result in strict legal and financial penalties.

Poor Recordkeeping

Maintaining a detailed and accurate record of patient information, patient interactions, and other information is vital for providers to protect themselves from liability. Noting when a patient fails to comply with a recommended treatment, for example, can protect a provider in a malpractice claim. An accurate record of a patient’s medical history is crucial to protecting patient safety as well.

Data Security

Health care organizations possess an abundance of highly sensitive information that is valuable to cyber thieves, including financial information such as credit card and bank account numbers, Social Security numbers, and other patient data. As a result, providers are especially vulnerable to cyber attacks.

Nurse Fatigue

Nurse fatigue can have a particularly negative impact on risk management in nursing strategies. Nurses work a variety of different shift patterns—including late nights and extended (12-hour) shifts—that can interfere with the normal sleep-wake cycle and lead to fatigue. This, in turn, can have adverse effects on the safety of both patients and nurses themselves.

Overcoming Risk Management Issues in Nursing

Nurse leaders can leverage their skills to address any number of risk issues before they have a negative impact on staff or patient safety. By using a centralized reporting system, nurse leaders can analyze daily operations for trends that expose safety risks—such as insufficient documentation or potentially unsafe shift patterns. Nurse leaders can use this information to identify process improvements to minimize those risks.

As leaders, nurses are responsible for communicating risk management goals to their staff and instilling a culture of safety by serving as positive role models. Nurse leaders, in tandem with other health care professionals, are ultimately tasked with developing and enacting risk management protocols for their organizations. When problems do arise, they’re able to assess what went wrong and recommend steps to improve operations and avoid future errors.

Risk Management Careers in Nursing

Nurses in leadership roles, such as nurse managers and nurse supervisors, are crucial to the successful implementation of risk management strategies. They help establish best practices and instill a culture of safety at every level of care. Aspiring nurse leaders who are interested in risk management in nursing can choose from a number of different career paths. Note that the following salary figures are subject to change and can vary based on experience and location.

Compliance Officer

Compliance officers help health care organizations navigate the many laws, regulations, and guidelines that govern the health care industry. They work with providers to develop best practices and protocols to ensure compliance, and protect the organization, its staff, and patients. An advanced education and work experience are generally required for health care compliance officers. They’re also expected to possess industry certifications, such as a Certified in Healthcare Compliance (CHC) certification and a Certified in Healthcare Privacy Compliance (CHPC) certification. Though the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) doesn’t provide specific salary figures for health care compliance officers, the mean annual wage for compliance officers in all industries was $75,620 in 2020.

Clinical Risk Manager

A clinical risk manager assists health care facilities in developing and implementing policies that mitigate potential risks and improve patient and employee safety. They’re responsible for educating and training staff about risk management strategies, as well as collecting and analyzing data to identify potential issues. They also may write and submit incident reports and field phone calls related to accusations of abuse or negligence. A bachelor’s degree is typically a minimum requirement for a clinical risk manager. Degrees in nursing, health care administration, accounting, insurance, and law are common. According to the compensation website PayScale, clinical risk managers earned a median annual salary of around $84,500 as of August 2021, with a range of $59,000 to $110,000.

Nurse Consultant

Nurse consultants work in a variety of health care settings, offering expertise to help develop or assess an organization’s standards of nursing practice. They may evaluate overall health care delivery and individual patient cases, making recommendations for how to improve care, which may involve training nursing staff. Because of the level of expertise the position demands, an advanced degree is typically required for a nurse consulting job. A nurse practitioner license is also a prerequisite in most cases. Nurse consultants earned a median salary of about $87,500 as of July 2021, according to PayScale, with a salary range of $65,000 to $123,000.

A Leading Role in Patient Safety

Risk management in nursing is vital to protect patient health and safety as well as shield providers from financial liability due to errors in medical care. Nurses, and nurse leaders in particular, play an important role in developing and enacting risk management strategies that allow health care organizations to provide more efficient care.

Nurses interested in promoting and practicing safety in the workplace can gain the knowledge and leadership skills they need by earning an advanced degree, such as the Norwich University online Master of Science in Nursing and its Healthcare Systems Leadership concentration. The program includes such focused courses as Quality Improvement and Patient Safety, and The Nurse Leader’s Role in Healthcare Systems. Explore how the program can help you become a nurse leader.


Recommended Readings

What Is Nursing Education: Role and Career Opportunities
Nurse Leadership Qualities for Your Future Career
How to Become a Nurse Manager



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Patient Safety, Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development
What is a Healthcare Compliance Officer?, Verisys
Risks of Noncompliance, California Association for Nurse Practitioners
The Importance of Cybersecurity in Protecting Patient Safety, AHA Center for Health Innovation
Improving Fatigue Risk Management in Healthcare: A Systematic Scoping Review of Sleep-Related/Fatigue Management Interventions for Nurses and Midwives, International Journal of Nursing Studies
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Compliance Officers, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
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What is a Clinical Nurse Consultant?, Houston Chronicle
Average Nurse Consultant Salary, PayScale

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