Forensic Nursing: Communicating in Difficult Situations

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Communication skills are important for forensic nurses.

Forensic nurses work in complicated situations, assisting victims of sexual assault, domestic violence and neglect and leading community campaigns to advance social justice. Working as a forensic nurse means utilizing excellent written and verbal communication skills to enhance anti-violence efforts.

Forensic nurses, including those who work as sexual assault nurse examiners (SANEs), communicate with victims, their family members, law enforcement, social service agencies and other entities while trying to bring perpetrators to justice. In the field of forensic nursing, word choice, phraseology and communication delivery methods can dramatically influence the outcome of legal proceedings, particularly when it comes to sexual assault.

The National Organization for Men Against Sexism (NOMAS) said proper communication is vital to ending violence against women because “unaccountable language” minimizes the actions of abusers and supports blaming victims. Unaccountable language includes phrases like “domestic dispute” and “abusive relationship,” which makes situations seem like communication problems rather than violence.

“Unaccountable language, embedded in all dominant institutions, including the judicial system, leads police, prosecutors, defense attorneys and judges in domestic violence custody cases to confidently assume that both parties share equal blame for not getting along,” Phyllis B. Frank and Barry Goldstein of NOMAS said in “The Importance of Using Accountable Language.”

Indeed, communication remains one of the leading forensic nursing issues today. Without solid communication skills, registered nurses (RNs) who enter the field of forensic nursing cannot properly interview crime victims and collect pertinent information that can lead to justice. To learn the skills needed for forensic nursing, including communication skills, RNs are increasingly turning to online master’s in nursing degrees.

Why Forensic Nurses Need Communication Skills

Nurses use communication skills in every element of practice, from documenting patient needs to writing clear shift notes. Forensic nurses also handle other situations with outside entities ― including law enforcement and attorneys ― that make coherent communication all the more necessary, including in circumstances such as these:

Interviewing victims

Forensic nurses communicate with crime and violence victims after they have been through traumatic events. To do their jobs, forensic nurses must ask open-ended questions that are not misleading so they can get an accurate description of the incident. Forensic nurses may also interview witnesses and family members. In many instances, forensic nurses use the therapeutic communication technique, which prioritizes the patient’s physical and emotional wellbeing. Therapeutic communication includes active listening, validating feelings, empathetic observations and hopeful communications.

Providing information

Forensic nurses provide trauma victims with information regarding treatment of the acute and long-term health consequences associated with violence or being accused of abuse. Some of the information includes resources for physical and mental healthcare and crisis-intervention services.

Documenting and relaying information

Forensic nurses record the victim’s direct quotes (using quotation marks) and avoid using the word “alleged,” which implies the victim’s statements are not true. Forensic nurses avoid wording that will detract from the victim’s credibility. Through the course of their work, forensic nurses also work cooperatively with law enforcement and legal authorities to bring criminals to justice. These nurses provide all the necessary documentation to the proper authorities.

Delivering expert medical testimony

Forensic nurses assist prosecutors in court cases by providing expert medical testimony before and during a trial. Due to the nature of their work, forensic nurses are considered experts in their field because they have extensive knowledge about evidence collection and preservation, injury identification, victim interviewing, photo documentation, maintenance of written medical legal records, chain of custody and the psychological effects of trauma, the Journal of Forensic Nursing said.

Defusing tense situations

During their work, forensic nurses will encounter victims and family members who are dealing with a multitude of emotions, including anger, outrage and hysteria. Forensic nurses defuse stressful situations so victims can receive competent care. By using empathetic and reflective listening skills, forensic nurses may be able to calm any tense situation.

Collaborating with community partners

Forensic nurses work with community partners, advocacy groups and social justice organizations to communicate information to underserved populations regarding health and personal safety. In the past several decades, forensic nurses across the United States have implemented cooperative programs with stakeholder groups that include adult and child protective services, deaf victim service organizations, disability abuse response teams and faith-based groups.

Forensic nurses also host public awareness campaigns at health fairs and through public service announcements, pamphlets, billboards and public speaking activities.

Benefits of Forensic Nursing

Experts agree that forensic nurses play significant roles in anti-violence efforts across the country. In addition to working in hospitals and medical clinics, forensic nurses work with police departments, coroners, medical examiners and correctional facilities.

Kathleen Sekula, a forensic nurse expert and professor at Duquesne University’s school of nursing, said the role of the forensic nurse is continually expanding. Sekula told American Nurse Today that forensic nursing is a calling for many healthcare professionals interested in ways to meaningfully support social justice movements.

“We are seeing more strides toward social justice,” she said. “Society is focusing more on victims of violence and abuse, and the role forensic nurses play in that is expanding.”

Some RNs wonder why they should get a master’s in nursing. But the answer is clear: they can make contributions to society as forensic nurses and make a difference in their communities as medical professionals. At Duquesne University, RNs who study forensic nursing learn the skills to be caregivers and victim advocates.

About Duquesne University’s Online Master’s in Nursing in Forensic Nursing

In Duquesne University’s online Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) program, RNs learn skills to work in the forensic nursing field. The university also offers an online Forensic Nursing Post-Master’s Certificate program for RNs with MSN degrees to learn new skills. Graduates of either program have an opportunity to pursue careers as SANEs, forensic nurse investigators and legal nurse consultant, among others.

The 100 percent online program offers a flexible learning schedule so busy professionals can learn on their own time. For more information about the programs, contact Duquesne University today.




The Importance of Using Accountable Language: NOMAS

What is Forensic Nursing?: International Association of Forensic Nurses

Examination Process: Exam and Evidence Collection Procedures: Safeta

Serving as a Witness in the Court: Trials, Testimony, and Truth: Journal of Forensic Nursing

Forensic Nurses Make Strides Toward Social Justice: American Nurse Today