Careers in Forensic Nursing

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Jodie Flynn, a Forensic Nursing MSN graduate from Duquesne University speaks to her experiences working in forensic nursing and the variety of roles that graduates can take once they have earned their MSN in Forensic Nursing from Duquesne.

Webinar Participants: 

  • Jodie Flynn, MSN, RN, SANE-A, SANE-P, D-ABMD – Master of Science in Nursing, Forensic Nursing graduate
  • Sonia DePina – Enrollment Advisor
  • Karisma Vicioso – Enrollment Advisor
  • John Hall – Enrollment Advisor
  • Staci Bell – Enrollment Advisor


Hi everyone, and welcome to today’s Forensic Nursing webinar.  Today we have the opportunity to chat with Miss Jodie Flynn, an alumni from Duquesne’s forensic nursing MSN program. Jodie will be sharing a bit about her experience as a Duquesne forensic nursing graduate student and what careers are available within this growing field. This is Sonia DePina, one of your enrollment advisors for Duquesne’s online nursing programs I’m also joined by Karisma Vicioso, John hall, and Staci Bell.

Before we actually jump into today’s discussion, we’ll learn a little bit more about Jodie. Jodie, do you want to tell us start off by telling us about yourself and your current role?

Sure. I’m a 2008 graduate from Duquesne with my master’s degree with the forensic nursing focus. I did receive my undergraduate degree from University of Akron, and I’m currently a PhD student at Duquesne, and my research is working with adult women for sexual assault looking at their health-related quality of life. I work full time as a nurse educator. I’ve been full-time nurse educator for 10 years and my clinical practice.  I do teach in Columbus Ohio Capital University, it’s a private institution, and I teach primarily in the undergraduate program. However, they do have a graduate level legal nurse studies program which I teach the legal health concepts course. My clinical practice is involved. I’m an ER nurse. I’ve been a ER nurse for 18 years, and I began working in the forensic nursing arena in 2002 as a pediatric and adult sexual assault nurse examiner. Upon completion of my graduate degree at Duquesne, my Master’s, I started working as a medical legal death investigator as well. So I do keep a common position with our current county coroner’s office. And I do some consulting work, so whether it’s working with attorneys or dueling writing some papers. I recently published something paper on national best practices for sexual assault kits with a multitude of professionals with the NIJ which is the National Institute of Justice so that’s just a little bit about me. Again, this is my passion in forensic nursing and I look forward to speaking and having any questions that the audience may have.

Wonderful. Thank you so much for that Jodie. We’ll be going through a few questions before we open it up for a Q&A from today’s audience. For those of you viewing live, you’ll see a Q&A tool on your screen where you can send the question to Jodie to answer and go ahead and start sending us your questions now and we’ll get to as many as we can so to start.

Jodie, what initially sparked your interest in forensic nursing?

I believe my interest started in working as an ER nurse. So just being the critical need, working with victims of crime so really I don’t necessarily refer to them as victims, they’re my patients. But just being the ER and seeing the amounts of violence whether it was sexual assault or any type of traumatic injury sparked my interest. The hospital that I had worked at when I started my nursing career, had recently had started a sexual assault nurse examiner program and that sparked my interest. So, I decided to apply for a position on that team and that’s where I got started.

Great, and why did you choose Duquesne’s forensic nursing MSN program?

Well first and foremost just looking at the online platform, I mean having a family and full-time job on myself, I wanted to look for an online program first and an understanding that they’ve really set the bar high for any type of online programming across the country. And then specifically in my clinical specialty, I really wanted to hone in on those skills that you know as it relates to working with victims of crime and looking at the legal aspects of nursing. So I had talked to some nurse recruiters when I was at the International Association of Forensic Nurses conference, very active in that organization, and really solidified my decision and choosing Duquesne with not only the recruitment team, but the faculty and their expertise in forensic nursing and the research that they have done. Not only independently as nurse faculty leaders, but also with their students so really embracing and getting students involved in into that area whether it’s research or clinical and so that really made my decision from there.

Great. Okay, and can you talk more about your experience as a medical legal death investigator?

Sure, as I worked through my master’s level program there Duquesne we had to do a clinical so as part of our rotation my interest went into looking at death investigation because I needed to do something other than sexual assault because I was already a practicing SANE. So, I’d asked to join their team to do my clinical practicum and medical legal death investigation is where you work with your corner or medical examiner depending with jurisdiction that you live whether it’s being corner or ME office and you help them put the building blocks together pieces together to help determine the cause and manner of death. So, it would include some investigation working with families could be evidence collection if you don’t have a forensic lab specifically it also is just put together processes. They’re critical to help determine work with cause and manner of death I will say that I never thought at that point to get into death investigation was a part of our SANE team. We’re very fortunate that any potential rape homicide victims that we would come into our emergency room to do SANE exams or coroner’s office was really interested in using our forensic team to help work with those investigations.

Phenomenal, and in what areas of health care are forensic nurses needed?

Forensic nurses are needed for multiple reasons. So most often people think well forensic nurse just means working with dead people or that it’s just sexual assault related because sexual assault nurse examiners are probably the largest population of forensic nurses. But we need nurses, not only in victims of crime sexual assault, but any type of injury violence prevention.  Also, death investigations. So, that’s kind of one more of an emerging field for nurses. We also need forensic nurses because forensic unit simply means pertaining to law so anything that we do as nurses. I’ve worked with nurses that work in forensic nurses, that work in risk management, they also may work in prison systems. We also have nurses that work as forensics nurses, that work with legal nurse consultants working on any type of chart review. They could be experts in court. So, they respond and work with any type of diagnosis and work with those attorneys. And, I think Public Health has lot. Forensic nurses may work in some primary prevention in strategies to prevent injury and that so that’s a newer area which we’re seeing some forensic nurses working in the public health. Because violence is a public health problem so better yet to have you nurses as those frontline primary prevention providers and helping develop. That’s just a little tip of the iceberg, but I think those are some of the most prevalent that you see in sexual assault whether it’s pediatric, or adult, death investigation, risk management correctional nursing lead consulting there’s many more but primarily some of the main areas that you know we’re seeing forensic nurses seeking career opportunities.

Awesome, great. And where did you complete your preceptive clinical hours during your MSN? I know you touched you know as far as your residency you were part of linking through the legal team but where did you do your preceptor hours?

So, my precepted hours were at Richland County Coroner’s Office so in my local community I did work with our coroner and our death investigation team in order to do my precepted hours. And then once I volunteered through those hours and develop preceptor clinical that’s at that time they asked me to join their team, part-time but I’m currently just PRN with our coroner’s office.

Fantastic. Okay so now we’ll open it up for a few questions from our audience. Sonia and I will go ahead and just take turns in asking some of these questions so feel free to be as elaborate as you can because we have some great questions.

So, one question that student asked is if it’s reasonable to find a position as a nurse a nurse death investigator?

I would say it depends upon the community that you live and I live in Ohio. I think that forensic nurses since, this is still kind of new working in this field, it’s almost like a criminal justice model. A lot of death investigators that we see in communities are retired police officers or they may have degrees and some type of science and but I think that question really depends upon your community. And I always advocate, just as I did for myself as a forensic nurse, just really going out and educating and volunteering and doing your precepted hours so that they really understand the role of forensic nursing and how it could benefit they’re medical-legal teams and helping determine a cause of manner of death. So your knowledge of the work that you do with your family but with the families just the underlying nursing principles of the art and science of nursing and your medical and then learning the legal piece really makes a good match for nurses to work in this specific field. So, I guess again, that just depends upon your jurisdiction because a lot of them are still don’t understand the role of forensic nurses so you really have to be more outreach and at and advocate for yourself to get in to do those preceptive clinical hours so they can understand your role and how you can benefit the team.

Great, and what’s a typical day look like for a forensic nurse? Obviously, this will change depending on where you work, but what are some of the typical responsibilities?

Well the typical responsibilities would be if for example, if I am working as a sexual assault nurse examiner it would be depending on if we have any scheduled cases which would usually that involve pediatric cases so it would it be an acute case something that has been disclosed later since the assault had happened or the abuse had happened so doing the examination with a child and any other follow-up referrals for that so those cases would go for the typical day any type of community education. Such a big part of our role is not just doing examinations but also the educational component of it and writing policy and procedures. Assisting your management team and in my hospital, that I work we are not a free-standing clinic, so helping assist the leadership team and making sure policies and procedures are accurate, any additional training. A lot of continuing education is involved for nurses in this work as well so that’s about that’s a typical day if you have a schedule. But forensic nurses do take call time and we respond within an hour of for an acute case whether it’s a pediatric or adult depending on the practice my typical day as a death investigator if I’m working again it’s whether it’s chart review on the days that I don’t actually have a case or if we don’t have a patient that needs responded to would be just chart review peer reviewing work again community education I do that both for my work as a SANE as well as death investigator those are some typical things.

Outstanding. Thank you, Jodie. Now can you talk a little bit about your experience with finding clinical sites and preceptors what examples of what you used or how you went about that or you know any recommendations?

I think I will say one wonderful resource that Duquesne’s MSN program has, is your connections and those of us that have graduated there we just know it’s all about assisting others in finding. So, we have a network of people across the country and who are in order to help facilitate a precepted process. So depending on you know where you live in the location so I know sometimes students feel like that’s a challenge where they can find a precepted opportunity really depends upon your location to help the hospital in which that you or health facility where you want to do your precepted hours, but I will say just the network and collaboration with not only the faculty there you came but also the graduates we form basically a partnership and we try to make those connections for you in order to get your preceptor hours in. Now the requirements will be different and every hospital or health agency will have their own requirements or paperwork or things to fill out to complete but those opportunities are available and most often in most communities and if not right within your community then neighboring communities.

Outstanding. Thank you for that, Jodie. So, we have another fun question. What would you say what’s been your favorite job that you’ve held in this field?

Wow. You know what I think? All of its fast. I mean I do I love it. mean I started in sexual assault I love the death investigation piece I don’t know if I have a favorite. I have to tell you I really enjoy doing SANE terms of sexual assault training. So, the educational components whether it’s in part of the online SANE training that is provided through Duquesne for the adult adolescent program. So, I think educating future forensic nurses is probably one of one of the best because it’s just the spark in their eye. Just that the wanting to just understand and work with victims of crime and kind of stepping out of their normal nursing role to do something that is so rewarding. I feel I get to be able to care for the special population you know it’s really unique in its own. So, I think the educational piece, I mean of course I love taking care of patients too, but just being able to create new forensic nurse leaders is one of the best parts of this position.

Outstanding and thank you for that. Another question just popped up and as a SANE, are you hired by hospitals or are you hired by agencies or do you think it’s a little bit of combination of both?

In my experience, is most of them are hospital based there are some community there are some community based type of forensic programs, but I say most of them stem from being a hospital based. So, in there usually call-in position PRN position so the nurses hold a primary nurse position anywhere in the hospital not just ER nurses. Some people think that if I’m not an emergency room nurse then I would not be qualified. When I managed our forensic nursing team at our hospital for five years I had nurses on my team that had multiple specialty experiences from rehab to OB to pediatrics. So, it’s not just those are ER nurses that are seeking this position there are some trained mobile teams to that work so they maybe respond to health systems that have more than one hospital. So, it really will depend upon the location where you live and where those opportunities are I will say that we advocate for every hospital having some type of if it’s not a SANE program but at least forensic nurses that are trained in order to do these different in medical forensic examinations and if not have some type of contact agreement with another agency close by so that those patients can be taken care of in a timely manner.

Outstanding, thank you for that and Jodie. Another question here for you. Did you actually take your SANE exam before you actually embarked on your master’s degree or did you do that after?

I have to think. Oh yes, I had I did my SANE before I went into the master’s program. So, I’ve been a SANE since 2002. I had to think about that. It’s been 16 years now so I embarked on getting my MSN in 2006. So, I was practicing SANE and did receive my certification prior to joining the forensic program.  We do have nurses that come in and get the SANE training as part of the MSN program as well the adult adolescent and then some seek out the pediatric which is a separate training but it’s doable either way. So, it really depends upon the person. If you want to do your SANE training before and/or go into graduate work and do it but Duquesne is very unique that they do offer the SANE training as part of it and then credentialing for pediatric or adult should proceed at least get a couple years of practicing before you should sit for your certification exam.

Jodie, after your MSN program do you think that the curriculum helps you to prepare students actually sit for that SANE training?

Absolutely. So, the SANE training that you will get us part of Duquesne’s forensic nursing program, it prepares you for the didactic to the classroom. So really when you go through the SANE training portion you have to do your clinical work so clinical work really puts that marriage together from theory to practice so you really need that clinical time in order to develop your skills and understand your role of the SANE before you sit for certification. So, based upon the requirements of certification you have to have practicing hours as well. So, just having the classroom training in it in itself is not going to fully prepare for that clinical piece as well that would be coordinated with the community in which you live in.

Awesome, that’s great. Thank you for that. Another great question. Do you think there’s saturation in certain regions as to positions available since this isn’t a well-known field yet or be known because it’s such a new field? Since it’s growing, do you think that there’s not enough emphasis on this field then that there is a need for it?

I truly believe there is a huge emphasis for this field especially in the work of the sexual assault movement. That’s where really forensic nursing kind of sparked.  We’ve seen the larger movement has been with caring for adult and adolescent pediatric patients and the collaboration as part of the medical team. Nurses don’t just work in silos. We’re part of a larger multi-disciplinary team. So, there may be some saturation in certain areas where they do have a lot of nurses going through a graduate program makes the understanding of the different aspects that you can work. Especially in consulting work you don’t just hone in just specifically on sexual assault as that’s just one part of a larger picture of forensic nursing practice. I think the largest trend that I’ve seen with nurses that are getting masters level pertly or forensic nursing is whether they’re taking over or creating new forensic nursing programs within their health system so they’re being the charge leaders or they’re doing a lot of consulting work in this area with our graduate degrees as well. Also risk management, they’re looking at all the legal aspects of healthcare working in major health systems when it comes to looking at problems or preventing further problems with any type of medical need so or any injury prevention so there’s a lot of work that’s done. So, I guess it really does depend upon your community in which you live sometimes. Again, we do have to advocate for ourselves and help people and educate people the role and the way that which that we can work as part of the healthcare team.

Outstanding. Thank you for that Jodie. I did hear you mention consulting work. Can you go into a little bit of any type of consulting work that you’ve done kind of some examples of that?

Sure. I’ve done some consulting work with attorneys. Most of my consulting work, when I when I practice as a SANE, most of the work that I do is, it comes to courtroom testimony is for the patients that I’ve cared for. However, forensic nurses are very objective or fact finders. So, regardless of what legal aspects we could be consulted I’ve done some work for defense attorneys. So, doing chart review, looking at policies and procedures, being able to offer a medical opinion based upon your knowledge and background experiences and if you’re qualified as an expert versus just a fact witness. I also, was part of a team with the National Institute of Justice looking at national best practices for sexual assault kits. So, that this publication just came out last year so, it was a three or four-year project this working group that came together to look at timely response and having those sexual assault kits being evaluated. So, that was a good project a consulting project and that was just the collaboration of work that we had done pro bono with the government. Now also, I helped with our statewide initiatives writing our pediatric and our adult sexual assault protocols for the state of Ohio so those are in currently in revision and I’ve also been fortunate to do some consulting work and writing a book chapter and on our psyche mental health nursing text a nursing textbook. So, kind of opens the door with when you have your graduate level degree and we do advocate our students to go back and in professional programs in order to open the door for you with many avenues with consulting work.

Awesome, and you mentioned the International Association of Forensic Nurses. Once you get your degree in forensic nursing are there other networks graduates can join that you would recommend to learn more about open job positions?

Oh absolutely. So, I would encourage any student even before you graduate to join the International Association of Forensic Nurses or IAFN, it’s the cornerstone. International Association for Forensic Nurses a lot of states do have local chapters so also look to see if your state has a chapter that you can participate in meetings. Most often they’re held quarterly. It really depends upon your state but get involved in network with other forensic nurses who will help you and help they’ll help you build your career in this wonderful field and you can join as a student for IAFN there’s lots of volunteer opportunities with the organization as well. I’m currently on the planning committee of our next conference that’s going to be held in October so the sky’s I really say not the limit because there’s so much that you could do to be part of the organization. But, yes get involved get involved early you don’t have to have graduated with forensic nurse or anything to get involved in that organization you’ll learn so much and you’ll meet so many wonderful people in the field that will help you.

Awesome, and kind of going back to your school days here. Were you able to work full-time or part-time while you were going through the program?

I actually worked full-time. I managed our forensic nursing program at our local health system. I worked full-time and full-time mom as well so for me it was the online. I mean at first, of course, I was all nervous because I’ve never taken an online program, but it was the best decision I’ve ever made. It was doable. The faculty are amazing and well respected in their fields. Also, either cohort of students that kind of form a little family. You know everyone that comes on it at one given time and it really how graduating having my master’s there and the wonderful experience I had really helped me decide where I want wanted to get my PhD. So, I’m currently a PhD student and I’m also full-time. I still am a full-time mom and I work full-time as an educator and still do my clinical work and even as a full-time PhD student. So, yes, it’s doable. May seem overwhelming at first, but once you figure it out I do appreciate that Duquesne does offer or that you do come to campus so you do have some the summer before you start your program you meet your cohort and the faculty and give that type of orientation that was really beneficial so that was one of the best times to come together and honestly even in my the Ph.D. program we were only required to come so many times over. I think three times but I try to go every year if I can so it is kind of going back to your roots and you know seeing everybody again but again it is doable so don’t be discouraged by even your full-time position or even being a full-time parent.

Awesome, that’s so great.  What was your favorite course within the forensic nursing program and did you find yourself using a lot of the content of what you learned in your day-to-day roles?

Yes, you know, I don’t know if I can pick a specific course but I do know that since the forensic nursing program has at that connection with the forensic science and law all of the courses were really relevant and really took you out of not just thinking of one particular area forensic nursing but lots of different areas there is the specific SANE training that you could get but just the overall view of forensic nursing in general then of the curriculum may have change. I’m sure it’s changed a little bit since I was there eight years ago perhaps however, I really don’t know that there’s one class that really sticks out to me. tThey were all equally awesome.

Great! We have one last question. With the Me Too movement in the spotlight right now, how can forensic nurses get involved in policy changes to create more awareness about this field?

Now that’s a great question. I always say that I’m a strong advocate just to try to see to get nurses and more primary prevention so often we feel that forensic nurses respond after the fact because with sexual assault we are there to respond when it happens but if we can get out there and be part of that movement especially at the legislative level and be nurse leaders. I will say that IAFN has a strong voice and even a component of IAFN, there’s the government section committee and very active at the legislative level. So, I think as forensic nurses we need to be more open to not just thinking that we respond after the fact but that we need to do more primary work into that. Like think of ourselves more a public health type of nursing too because violence is everywhere. With one of the main issues, we know it’s a worldwide it’s a public health care problem so that’s a great question. I would just make sure that you stay active and always be willing to even if it’s starting you know small changes in your local community being there to help in the public schools and do some speaking engagements even in the hospitals in which you work. Being part of movements and change in education as well as writing policies and writing grants and so there’s so much that you can do it’s just sometimes you have to define the right people to make connections and making connections is one of the most important collaborative pieces that we do.

Outstanding! We’ve one more question. Can you talk a little bit about going through the program? Being that Dr. Sekula was one of the first of its kind to launch the MSN’s in forensic nursing program. Can you talk about that impact of what that was kind of going through the program with her as a faculty member?

Absolutely! Dr. Sekula is my mentor. I still work with her very closely as part of the Ph.D. program as well we’ve presented together at the International Association of Forensic Nurses. So, I have a deep respect and admiration for her and what she has done with the program at Duquesne. I feel she’s one of those founding type members. Not only when we talk about psyche mental health as her background, lots of forensic implications and that as well. So, I have even mentioned her name from the very beginning and helping make my initial decision to go to Duquesne but also she was at the forefront and being one of my biggest cheerleaders and supporters and pursuing my graduate the grad my PhD degree at Duquesne as well in my research.  So, I can’t speak highly enough about Dr. Sekula. And that she’s very approachable and if you’ve not met her that certainly she is one person that you need to meet. Whether or not you decide to go to Duquesne, hopefully you will, she is someone who will be the biggest supporter of you not only in your educational endeavors but also in practice and I’m sure will be a mentor even you know many years beyond school.

Outstanding! Thank you for that, Jodie. Well it looks like that’s all the questions we’re going to get to today. A huge thank you to Jodie for spending some time with us today to talk about your experience at Duquesne. Most of all, especially in regard to the forensic program and the different career careers available. Once again to our audience if you have any questions about our forensic program or you’re interested in getting started please reach out your enrollment advisors and we can help you with your next steps.