Forensic nursing

Forensic nursing and the changing landscape of healthcare

Also known as “forensic nursing science”, the field of forensic nursing is becoming increasingly active. Forensic nursing is a field that combines forensic science, nursing science, and law. More specifically, forensic nursing science combines traditional forensic science principles and concepts with aspects of traditional nursing such as the clinical assessment of trauma and even the recovery of medical evidence. Forensic nurses identify, evaluate, and assess trauma, death, and disease while documenting their findings and preserving (and securing) evidence. This careful intervention is sometimes the determining factor in legal conclusions, helping law enforcement and the judicial system come to the proper conclusions.

Forensic nurses serve a variety of roles in a number of different areas, but perhaps the most common of them is documenting and assessing the aftermath of violence. Whether they do this solely to ensure that patients receive the proper healthcare or are working in tandem with law enforcement, this kind of nurse is an essential ally to victims in their recovery to good health. As mentioned briefly above, forensic nursing is also closely related to perpetrators, suspects, and witnesses in that the information they collect is often used to confirm stories and determine the person behind the injuries being assessed.

Why is forensic nursing important?

Forensic nursing is incredibly important for a number of reasons. Far from examining trace evidence and testing DNA in labs, which is the classic image the word “forensic” inevitably evokes, forensic nurses are important first and foremost because they protect patients. Nurses trained in forensic science as well as the judicial system are better at navigating the sometimes-complex world of legal requirements in nursing, which can help ensure that patients’ rights are upheld.  Their presence in the workforce ultimately leads to improved outcomes on a variety of levels.

In addition to keeping patients safe and providing speedy and accurate care, forensic nurses are an incredibly important ally when law enforcement and representatives from the legal system need to navigate the world of healthcare. Law in healthcare can be extremely complicated, and forensic nurses have a unique understanding of how the law and healthcare intersect. This can be a valuable tool to guide and assist fellow professionals as well as patients.

Finally, forensic nurses are important because they collect evidence of crimes. While they serve many roles in the healthcare system, this is the responsibility that is most common as well as the one that most separates them from other types of nurse. Forensic nurses have the ability to help solve crimes and ensure that criminals are prosecuted.

If you’re interested in becoming a forensic nurse, the good news is that there are an increasing number of programs designed specifically with forensic nursing in mind. These programs examine the unique position of nurses to intervene in cases of suspected violence as well as how they can do so. One option is the MSN in forensic nursing offered by Cleveland State University. Programs such as this are crucial in the mission to produce well-trained and effective forensic nurses.

How are forensic nurses changing the landscape of healthcare?

For many decades, nurses were expected to help patients without intervening in their private lives. Whether they suspected crimes or violence were the origins of the trauma in question, they had to stay quiet and simply focus on providing the best care possible. This is how the healthcare system functioned for many years, and it was a direct reflection of society at the time. Nowadays, open and honest discussions about violence and crime are encouraged, whereas in the past, certain forms of violence have been accepted, ignored or excused. Even when discussion around violence became more open, it was often still considered solely the responsibility of law enforcement, rather than healthcare professionals.

As society has changed and discussions about violence and crime becomes more common, the role the healthcare system plays in reporting potential crimes or violence has changed significantly. In 1989, this came to a head when then-U.S. Surgeon General Koop changed expectations about accountability regarding violence and crime. Instead of simply noting injuries in a patient’s file and offering medical care, doctors and other healthcare professionals were expected to intervene in cases of suspected violence. As stewards of public health, Koop declared that they were just as responsible as law enforcement when it came to recognizing and reporting violent crimes. From domestic violence to elder abuse, child abuse, murder, and sexual assault, along with many others, Koop expected healthcare professionals to recognize potential issues and step up to help combat them.

As these expectations changed, the role of forensic nursing began to take form. Suddenly, nurses were expected to look for evidence of trauma in their patients and do their best to keep them safe and report suspected crimes against them. Their opinion alone wasn’t enough to have someone arrested, however, so the need for more concrete evidence arose. This is where the role of a forensic nurse came from. These professionals are an evolution of a traditional nurse’s role. It is a role that enables nurses to better detect, report, and support suspicions of violence against their patients. The role can expand the responsibilities of a nurse, so that they can better work for the good of their community. As the field continues to grow, forensic nurses will play an even bigger role in addressing the epidemic of violence in communities around the world.