Forensics, is a branch of science which deals with the legal aspects of human behaviour and medicine. It has been diversified into the many branches of science as possible and nursing is no exception. Almost all medico-legal cases are handled by forensic nurses, be it just forensic pathology, forensic psychology, forensic psychiatry, forensic dentistry and the like.
It would be interesting to note that case studies such as the John F Kennedy assassination (1963) was undertaken with the help of forensic nursing to aid in finding out the cause of death and perhaps even later tracing the origin and source of the bullet, even to minute details such as batch of the bullet, or even to a particular consignment.
With the progress of science and scientific techniques, it is no wonder that forensics has given a new face to nursing. It has become a progressive field of study for Registered Nurses to pursue, ie., for those who have the interest and ability to cope with the stress and dark nature that forensic nursing presents.
The role of nurses in such a field is to first and foremost collect evidentiary material in support of every case that is presented to them along side taking care of the patient. It might be the wounded victim rolled into the emergency room on the stretcher, or the victim of a sexual assault. It might even be examinations done on a corpse to find out the cause of death and in many cases to assist in the teaching aspects of forensic nursing. However, every case they handle is a legal case and has to be documented for review which is legal and binding. If a person meets with an accident, there should be supporting evidence in favour of an accident and not tending towards assault. Forensic nursing therefore, as support staff to the legal department, assists in bringing such matters to light.
Forensic Nursing took on its form as a specialised branch of nursing by 1992. This does not mean that forensic nursing had no part to play in the medico-legal field prior to this, but rather its unique nature was duly noted and strong measures taken to improve this highly specialised branch of medical, investigative and legal science all rolled into one. The Health Care and Crime Departments have come to understand the significance of nursing staff in this category and have given them due recognition for the risky role they play in gathering evidence and assisting the Crime Branch, while at the same time keeping the best interests of the patient’s health in focus.
Over the past few years, Forensic Nursing has fine tuned into further classifications, based on the nature of work undertaken. Nurses can now specialize as Forensic Nurse Examiner, Forensic Nurse Coroner, Sexual Assault Forensic Examiner, to name but a few. In a society or neighbourhood where violence flourishes, forensic nursing helps the police in protecting the rights and health of children and women.
The first point of entry for victims of crime into the legal system is the hospital, usually the hospital emergency department. Forensic nurses are therefore highly trained to systematically extract evidence in support of a crime, legally document it and also present it for legal evaluation from time to time. Since a lot of evidence is removed or lost during the course of treatment, it is the utmost duty of the forensic nurse to bide by the laws of extraction and evidentiary documentation.
The role of the nurse in the forensic department should not be taken for granted. The sleepless nights from having to see the faces of the dead bodies they have worked on earlier in the day or the trauma they get involved in when treating a sexually assaulted person is beyond description. The deadly mix of pain, anger, fear and blood is what they face day in and day out, and yet they have the courage to face yet another day taking care of the sick and attending to the wounded with a smile on their face, instilling cheer in the heart of the victim; truly noble service.