Forensic Nurses Working in Violence Prevention and Social Justice

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Working as a forensic nurse goes beyond attending to the needs of crime victims, documenting traumatic events, and assisting in the legal process. Forensic nurses also use evidence-based strategies and educational programs to prevent crimes, promote social justice and expand the profession’s reach worldwide.

Forensic nurse with patient

Forensic nurses provide leadership by developing, sponsoring and broadcasting information about forensic nursing science and practice, according to the International Association of Forensic Nurses (IAFN). The primary goal of forensic nursing is to provide victim services, including as a sexual assault nurse examiner, or SANE. At the same time, forensic nurses also provide communities with resources to understand and combat the long- and short-term consequences of violence, initiate violence prevention efforts and help oversee the administration of justice. Advanced-level forensic nursing roles include education, administration, clinical practice, research and consultation.

Expanding the Reach of Forensic Nurses

In its recently drafted 2018-2022 strategic plan, the IAFN said forensic nurses would continue to bring about transformational changes by working toward a common goal of proactive and reactive responses and bringing additional advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) into forensic nursing careers. The IANF works in conjunction with the American Nurses Association (ANA) to outline the expectations for the role and practice of forensic nurses.

For Megan Lechner, MSN, RN, CNS, of Colorado Springs, CO, working as a forensic nurse has given her special insight into a “unique component” of nursing. She said such insight allows APRNs to “focus not only on the short- and long-term physical and mental healthcare concerns, but also on social components, safety planning and community partnerships to ensure care and recovery of the patient.”

“Forensic nursing is the most holistic nursing I have ever practiced,” Lechner told Medscape.

Through forensic nursing classes and by earning a post-master’s certificate in forensic nursing, APRNs can prepare to expand the reach of the field of forensic nursing. The IAFN’s strategic plans seek to continue propelling the organization’s work and the future of forensic nursing through the following actions:

Implementing better access to services, public awareness and research

One of the tenets of forensic nursing is ensuring across-the-board expert and compassionate care in all communities. The goal is to encourage universal access to forensic nursing in areas of clinical practice, including 24/7 access to a SANE in all Level 1 trauma centers in the United States.

To achieve these goals, IAFN leaders said the organization must provide forensic nurses with strategies to demonstrate the practical impact on healthy outcomes for patients by determining the gaps in SANE services and using outreach programs. Leaders also said forensic nurses must be a stronger presence in the community through collaborations with academic institutions to create forensic nursing research projects.

Improving forensic nurses’ role in social justice

core value of forensic nursing is a focus on social justice, including learning about the interconnection between privilege, oppression, ethical practice and health equity. Forensic nurses have an opportunity to enhance social justice by interacting with vulnerable populations.

A 2018 study in the Journal of Forensic Nursing found nursing students who participate in poverty simulation experiments gain an increased understanding of those living in poverty and are motivated to become advocates and change agents. The study, titled “Understanding Poverty: Teaching Social Justice in Undergraduate Nursing Education,” found the increase in social empathy and a better understanding of social justice would “inevitably positively affect their future practice and inform their development as forensic nurses.”

Expanding the global network of forensic nurses

Working as a forensic nurse includes understanding the multicultural population issues that the World Health Organization has identified as high priorities, including the impact of human trafficking, domestic violence and child abuse.

When working in the United States and overseas, forensic nurses must often help immigrants and refugees who are victims of trafficking, gang violence, torture and crippling cultural practices such as genital mutilation. For forensic nurses, having an in-depth understanding of local, national and international laws as well as the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights to promote effective interactions with law-enforcement agencies is vital.

“An increased awareness of the law also enables the nurse to present informed, appropriate lectures and to understand how the current standards of nursing differ,” the authors of Current Issues in Nursing said.

Strengthening forensic nursing education

The IAFN said forensic nursing practice is based in on an innovative, evidence-based study and rooted in nursing science with elements of public health and forensic science.

Some of the specialized components of forensic nursing education include learning about intentional and unintentional injuries, prevention, identification, diagnosis, treatment, victimology, specimen collection, photo documentation, ethics, law and legal practices. It is also important for forensic nurses to learn about the judicial process on local, state, regional, national and international levels.

“Education that is current and reflects evidence-based and evidence-informed practice is necessary to ensure safe healthcare delivery and advocacy for forensic patients and employers,” the IAFN said.

The expansion of distance learning through advanced technology, electronically supported simulations and telemedicine continues to support equal access to forensic nursing education to students worldwide. Such innovation improves access to quality forensic nursing care to populations in remote communities around the globe.

“Future forensic nurses will assume leadership positions and create new venues for forensic nurse practice, such as entrepreneurial endeavors and legislative representation,” the IAFN said. “Future forensic nurses will widely influence nursing practice; elements of forensic nursing content will continue to be woven throughout nursing coursework at all levels of nursing education.”

APRNs and Forensic Nursing Classes

APRNs who earn a post-master’s certificate in forensic nursing take a leading role in nursing science, criminal justice, forensic science and forensic healthcare as they relate to victims, families, communities and populations.

Overall, the standards of practice for all forensic nurses include collecting and analyzing data vital to the situation, implementing safety, wellness and coordinated care plans for patients, and promoting community health and safety plans.

For each standard of practice, graduate-prepared forensic nurses can provide additional competencies as a result of their advanced education. The competencies include offering consultation to effect changes on a local, national and international level and using prescriptive authority, procedures, treatments and therapies in accordance with local laws and regulations.

APRNs who complete forensic nursing classes and earn a post-master’s certificate in forensic nursing have an opportunity to work as a SANE, death investigator, legal nurse consultant, nurse attorney, forensic clinical nurse specialist and forensic geriatric specialist, as well as other specializations.

Duquesne University’s Post-Master’s Certificate in Forensic Nursing prepares APRNs to sit for the SANE certification exam. The coursework includes Forensic Science and the Legal System and Criminal Law and the Courts. Forensic nurses can also further their careers by pursuing a post-master’s FNP. Online programs ensure APRNs can continue their careers while completing advanced coursework.

About Duquesne University’s Online Post-Master’s Certificate Program—Forensic Nursing

Duquesne University’s Post-Master’s Certificate in Forensic Nursing provides an opportunity for APRNs to begin a career as a forensic nurse and leadership roles in violence prevention, social justice and population health. The program was designed in partnership between Duquesne University forensic science faculty and the university’s acclaimed Cyril H. Wecht Institute of Forensic Science and Law.

As the first university in the nation to teach graduate nursing online, Duquesne University offers a host of advanced nursing programs including a post-master’s FNP online. For more information, contact a Duquesne University Academic Advisor today.