Balancing the Scales: Attorney Who Now Practices Nursing

November 9th, 2011


By , BSN, RN

I still have no funny answer for, "what do you get when you cross a nurse and an attorney?" However, after meeting a nurse who became an attorney, I thought it only fair to balance the scales and introduce you all to an attorney who became a nurse.

"The law and nursing are all about dealing with people in crisis," John Costo, RN, told me. "Someone has been arrested; someone has suffered a cardiac arrest—the resulting need for care is not that different. They need reassurance, someone to help them calm down. You have to know how to talk to people and you have to know how to listen."

This former attorney has found the bridge between his careers, past and present. As a solo law practitioner, Costo handled a wide variety of civil litigation: sexual harassment, medical malpractice and even some criminal cases.

What path led you to nursing?

"I've actually retired twice from the law. The first time I left Seattle and moved to Las Vegas. I got involved with the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) in Nevada defending prisoners who were being denied effective medical care while incarcerated in the Clark County Jail. Then I started to burn out, I had made a nice bit of money so I retired again and moved to Fort Lauderdale, Florida. But, I got bored. I knew quickly I wanted to do something and I didn't want to deal with the kinds of people you find in the practice of law. "

"I asked myself, what can I do that would be interesting and fulfilling? I knew a number of nurses, had experience taking care of family and friends who were terminally ill and I had my past experience in medical litigation. Combined with my biology degree from Boston College, nursing seemed a natural answer.

A biology degree? Wasn't that kind of an odd choice for someone who wanted to go to law school?

"Actually, I had wanted to be a nurse before that. When I was in high school I was the youngest EMT (emergency medical technician) in my county in Pennsylvania. One of the people I met was an anesthesia provider. I was always interested in what they did. The hospital across the river had a nursing school and I thought I would go to nursing school then become a CRNA (Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist). However, my Dad was a steelworker and that just wasn't an option. He was of the "no son of mine is going to be a nurse" generation."

So you had this previous biology degree, what stops were next on your journey?

"I did my prereqs at Broward County Community College and applied to the accelerated nursing programs at Georgetown University and Johns Hopkins. I moved to Baltimore, completed the Johns Hopkins program and went to work there for two years. Then I moved over to the University of Maryland for two years, then moved to Houston, Texas."

What skills did you bring from your law practice to your nursing practice?

"I definitely brought my ability to listen to clients. I was a psych nurse for a while. Psych doctors count on the nurses to listen. They can't be with the patients all day but the nurses are. It's amazing what you can learn about a client's recovery, how they are getting better, by listening. I was also an SICU (surgical intensive care unit) nurse early on."

What made you move to OR (operating room) nursing?

" I liked psych nursing, but it was really draining. I wanted to be where the action is. I mean, who doesn’t want to be an OR nurse?"

John had his own operating room experience a few years back when he was diagnosed with a pituitary tumor.

"I was stressed out. But, I was able to pick my own surgical team and providers. I was reassured by knowing all the people and when I woke up it was my manager who was in the PACU with me. I knew I was being well taken care of."

Would you ever return to some form of law practice or combined nursing/law practice?

"No, I'm too jaded, too cynical. Plus, being a nurse you can work anywhere and the options are limitless. You don’t take your work home with you. Also, I love being a nurse; I will die being an OR nurse."

One Response to “Balancing the Scales: Attorney Who Now Practices Nursing”

  1. Nora Lawton Says:

    I have read several of your stories and loved them. Because I know John, I was particularly drawn to this one. John is a warm and caring person and I am glad to have had the pleasure of knowing him.

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