What is a Forensic Nurse?

The forensic nurse is a professional who incorporates the skills and knowledge of two different fields of study. While they pursue the course of a traditional nursing education with its many specialized requirements, they’re also well-versed in the investigative skills needed to solve violent crimes, according to the Forensic Nurse. Read on to explore this fascinating interdisciplinary profession and defines the skills such nurses need to successfully enact their duties.

So Much More Than Hollywood

While popular television shows such as Bones and CSI have familiarized the general public with the concept of forensics, the glamour of Hollywood doesn’t approach the fascinating career path these nursing professionals follow. In 1992, the inaugural national convention for sexual assault nurses convened, and these dedicated nurses coined the term. While the forensic nurse is trained to gather evidence and document all details critical to solving a violent crime, they are often the first line of therapy for the victims of sexual assault.

Hence, among the many acronyms for this specialization (SANE, SAE, SAFE, FNE, SANC) the common ethos is one that battles violent sexual assault. However, these nurses fulfill a variety of functions. Their first function is the aforementioned gathering and documenting evidence, which may in some ways counter the traditional nursing wisdom of cleansing wounds and caring for patient injuries. They may also be specially trained to assess the evidence of child abuse, partner abuse, and violent altercations which are especially important tasks in the cultural goal of ending abusive behaviors.

But they do work with crime labs to assess the ultimate cause and means of violent incidents between unrelated parties or those that end in fatality. They also work with disaster relief agencies in the wake of widespread natural catastrophes or acts of terrorism to identify individuals, locate remains, and assist in the recovery and treatment of the victims of these events. While it is certainly not the only function of a forensic nursing professional, medicolegal death investigations (MDL) are an important career path.

Beyond Triage and Treatment

Individuals who train in forensic nursing boast a complex collection of skills. While triage, or initial assessment of damage and provision of emergency care measures, is a part of their training, they do much more. The collection and preservation of vital evidence, whether the nurse works with living victims of assault and abuse or engages in MDL work, is one primary feature of their specialized training. Because they may be among the first individuals to assess a situation, critical reasoning and the ability to understand the finer points of a violent altercation is essential.

Another vital feature of this specialized field is the ability to provide coherent, expert testimony of the gathered evidence, the procedures followed, and an experienced medical opinion of the underlying causes of factors they have observed. In fact, this ability is so important that the individuals who study this field are trained in the best methods to deliver their statements before a court of law.

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The tools of medical knowledge are combined with methods of inquiry and data collection, enabling these nurses to provide crucial witness to crimes, assist in recovery and assessment of remains in the wake of terrible tragedies, and provide fellow investigators with the evidence they need to bring relief to victims of assault or abuse. The forensic nurse, while he or she bears a relatively new designation, performs the timeless function of a nursing professional while aiding in the enactment of justice.