Forensic Nursing: Part 2. Inside Forensic Nursing

Laura A. Stokowski, RN, MS


Medscape Nurses 

In This Article

Forensic Nurse Educator

When prospective forensic nurses first enter Jamie Ferrell's classroom, they are occasionally under the wrong impression about what forensic nurses do. As a faculty member of the National Forensic Nursing Institute (NFNI), Ferrell's job is to enlighten them about forensic nursing, dispel the myths, and provide a foundation for incorporating forensic principles into nursing practice.

One of the misconceptions created by popular television programs about forensics is that forensic nursing involves everything from gathering the evidence to performing the autopsy to going out and solving the crime. Ferrell turns their fascination with television forensics into a learning opportunity, pointing out how carefully the evidence is handled in a homicide investigation. Why, she asks her students, shouldn't a victim of sexual assault or interpersonal violence be accorded the same degree of care and attention? As a forensic nurse educator, Ferrell emphasizes the importance of protecting the health and welfare of underserved populations.

Ferrell teaches a variety of forensic courses through the NFNI, an organization that provides professional and community education in forensics. Her students include not only nurses, but physicians, physician assistants, law enforcement, teachers, counselors, attorneys, child protective service case workers, criminalists, and even parents. She has traveled far and wide (28 states and 12 countries) to teach classes in adult and pediatric SANE, domestic violence, child maltreatment, elder abuse, and basic evidence collection and management. Ferrell also teaches an 80-hour forensic nursing course at Memorial Hermann Texas Medical Center in Houston, Texas. This course, coupled with a clinical preceptorship, prepares nurses who have an interest in forensic nursing to work on the hospital's extensive Forensic Nurse Response Team.

"Nurses who think they might be interested in a more specialized forensics role should seek out a local or national conference with forensic topics on the program to get exposure to forensics and what it really means," advises Ferrell. She also believes that it is time for forensic nursing science to be incorporated into all basic nursing school curricula, because no matter where you practice nursing, you overlap with the law and apply the principles of forensics to your nursing care.

Meliss Vessier-Batchen, DNS, RN, CFN, an Associate Professor of Nursing at Our Lady of the Lake College in New Orleans, Louisiana and a forensic nurse investigator at St. Tammany Parish Coroner's Office, agrees. She uses case examples to highlight forensic principles for her undergraduate nursing students. For example, she tells them, imagine that you are taking care of a paraplegic patient who dies as a result of a long-term infection in a wound that was originally a gunshot wound received 10 years earlier in a gang fight. Because the patient's original wound was caused by a malicious, intentional act, the case is now a homicide. The medical examiner/coroner's office should be notified; it is possible that new charges will be filed. If the healthcare providers are not educated about forensics, the patient's history could be overlooked and justice would not be served.


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