May 19,1983 : A woman rushes into the McKenzie-Willamette Hospital (Springfield, Oregon), yelling out for help. Her children are in her car, wounded brutally, while she sustains gunshots in her arm. The nurses of the emergency unit gear into action. One calls the police while others attend to the needs of the three wounded children and their mother. One look at them and they know that the children have been viciously shot in the chest at close range. The nurses collect evidentiary material, write up their observations and pass it along to the police. At the same time, while one child succumbs to the gunshot, the other two struggle for their lives; the nursing staff constantly by their side, watching, monitoring, observing and attending to them.
Forensic nursing is a fairly new field of nursing specializing in the crime related branch of medicine. It is a horrific mix of the humane nature of nursing along with the results of crime. Common scenes attributed to forensic nursing are open wounds, gun shots, injuries and broken bones, bleeding beyond control, bodies and faces distorted beyond recognition and dead bodies or corpses. It is a professional field for the registered nurses who intend to pursue a career in this direction and who have the strength to stomach the dark nature of this field.
Forensics, as the term denotes, means "to present legal evidence in support of". Forensic nursing, in this light, means to support a medical related issue or crime with evidentiary material. It also indicates that forensic nurses have to work as caregivers as well as detectives, aiding the Health Department and the Crime Branch.
The usual point of contact in times of violence, injuries and deaths are the hospitals. Any case not related to illnesses and epidemics have to be reported to the police. In order to do so, the forensic nurses are trained on how to observe, search for and extract evidence in the shortest possible time, even if it has to be by the use of cameras to support evidence by way of pictures. They are bound by the law to document every single finding or clue that might eventually be lost during the course of the treatment and this document is normally countersigned by the Head Nurse and the Hospital Administrators prior to submission to the Legal Department.
Forensic nurses also work alongside the Crime branch in Death Investigations. The role they play here is significant and supportive to solving a case or finding the lost bit to a puzzle, normally related to the cause of death of the subject. While claims might have been made in favour of an accident, the reports after working on a corpse might be in favour of murder and vice versa. The main objective of forensic nursing is to bring the cause of injury or death of the patient to light supported by medical evidence.
Another area of expertise in forensic nursing is the role that Sexual Assault Nurse Clinicians (SANC) and Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANE) play. In places of wide spread crime, this department of nursing works alongside the Crime Branch and the Human Rights to fight against harassment shown towards women and children. Victims of rape now have a means to heal psychologically with expert and professional help. Traumatic children, as a result of violent families and broken homes, are taken care of by the Health Department and Children Welfare with forensic nurses working in the background.
Other fields of forensic nurses are Sexual Assault Forensic Examiner , Medico -legal Death Investigator, Evidence Collection Trainer, Forensic Nurse Examiner, etc.
The potential of this expert field of nursing is not yet utilized to the maximum. It is pretty raw and has potential for growth, opening new career opportunities for the Registered Nurses and avenues for scientific growth and research.