The word forensic, used in the context of forensic nursing relates to the sciences which and the scientists who assist in legal investigations and, of these sciences, the medical sciences and techniques used to prove the validity of information presented before a court of law, forensic medicine, is perhaps the most important and certainly the best known.
Forensic nursing, as a discipline is a relatively new field in the wider field of forensic medicine. For those who wish to join the profession, it requires a minimum of a Master’s
degree in nursing specialising in the field, though a doctoral qualification
wouldn’t do any harm. Many American Nursing Schools offer a program leading to appropriate qualifications, and the time frame for the program is usually a couple of years.
A forensic nurse is trained in the recognition, assembly and safeguarding of evidential material gathered during the treatment of injuries, mental or physical, sustained by a patient, whether at a crime scene as the first medical personnel at the crime site, or in a hospital environment where he or she is working with other medical folk, many or most of whom have little or no medical forensic expertise. In the high pressure atmosphere of many of America’s hospital emergency rooms, a lot of evidence is lost, simply because the folk at work are bogged down with work. The presence of a forensic nurse in an ER would certainly help in protecting evidentiary material that might be of value at subsequent court proceedings.
What career paths does forensic nursing offer? There are quite a few paths that the prospective or intending forensic nurse might choose to walk up; and, as a relatively new profession, its growth will no doubt open up new dimensions. One career path is that of legal nurse consultant. Such a consultant provides medico-legal services in civil matters where the law and medicine come into conjunction. Areas such as medical malpractice or probate matters require the services of these consultants, and, no doubt, will continue to grow in the future.
But legal consultancy isn’t
the only track. A forensic nurse investigator, for instance, will be involved in trying to find solutions to unexpected or violent deaths and will usually be found working with coroners and medical examiners. Forensic Psychiatric Nurses work with offenders who are in legal detention, helping to attend to psychological and other such problems.
One of the most important areas that persons in this field work is in the area of sexual assault, and many forensic nurses have appeared before the courts to give their views as expert witnesses. This is a very important area of forensic nursing given the high incidence of sexual assaults, often in a domestic setting. The fact that an overwhelming majority of victims of sexual assaults are female underscores the value of this up and coming field. In a British study, victims of sexual assaults said that they preferred to be examined by a woman in the immediate aftermath of the assault. The fact that most nurses are women obviously helps given the fact that, given the nature of the crime, evidentiary material has to be got and safeguarded in a most timely fashion.
For those who may feel drawn to this vocation, more information is available from the following sites: www.theforensicnurse.com, www.forensicnursing.co.uk, and www.iafn.org (the International Association for Forensic Nursing). Useful government sites include the US Office for Victims of Crime and the Violence Against Women Office (www.ojp.usdoj.gov/ovc, www.ojp.usdoj.gov/vawo) and the crime reduction office of the British Home Office (www.crimereduction.homeoffice.gov.uk).