Forensic Nursing Program Overview

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Dr. Kathleen Sekula, walks potential students through the different degree and certificate options available at Duquesne University in the Forensic Nursing program.

Webinar Participants: 

  • L. Kathleen Sekula, PhD, PMHCNS, FAAN – Professor, Noble J. Dick Endowed Chair in Academic Leadership
  • Amanda Schoening – Enrollment Advisor
  • Jamella Lewis – Enrollment Advisor

Transcript

Amanda Schoening:

Good morning, thank you for attending Duquesne University’s webinar today for the Forensic Nursing Program. My name is Amanda Schoening, I’m one of the enrollment advisors here at Duquesne and I’m speaking today alongside my colleague, Jamella Lewis.

Jamella Lewis:

Good morning everyone. This is Jamella, one of the enrollment advisors here at Duquesne University. Today we’re joined with the chair of our forensic nursing program, Dr. Kathleen Sekula. Dr. Sekula, if you can just introduce yourself a little bit and tell us how long you’ve been with Duquesne.

Dr. Kathleen Sekula:

Okay. I’ve been with Duquesne for about 22 years I think now. And my background is in psych mental health and in forensics. I became interested in forensic particularly because of the clients that I was seeing for my therapy practice. I have a pro bono practice that I see patients here at Duquesne, not from Duquesne, but patients in the community. And what I began to see as I look back at my clients’ records is that 85 plus percent of those patients had experienced a sexual assault abuse of some sort in their past lives, or currently, or both.

Dr. Kathleen Sekula:

And so, that was how I first became interested in forensic nursing. Dr. Wecht had endowed the law school with an Institute for Forensic Science and Law. And he asked the deans here at Duquesne if they would think about starting master’s programs that would interface with the institute that was at the law school.

Dr. Kathleen Sekula:

And so our Dean came back and I was selected to do that and it was a wonderful experience. So, we’ve had two large grants from HERSA that helped develop our program and it has grown very well over the past years. And we have some wonderful graduates from our program that have made a difference in getting the general population and especially the healthcare clinicians to know more about what’s forensics and how can we help patients when their situation’s interfaced with legal implications.

Dr. Kathleen Sekula:

And I currently am the program director for the forensic program and I’m also involved with a grant from HERSA. Another grant that is looking at training more sexual assault nurse examiners throughout the United States, so that we get more coverage in rural and underserved areas and in areas where there are not many saying. So that’s in essence and you can read about other things I’ve done, but that’s what I’m doing now and keeps us busy.

Amanda Schoening:

Wonderful. That’s so great to learn a little bit more about you and the real value that you bring to this program. So thank you for all you do for our underserved communities in the realm of forensic nursing. So with this forensic nursing program, we have the first track we’re going to talk about, which is our online MSN.

Amanda Schoening:

So this forensic nursing master’s degree, it takes about 2.4 years to complete. So just shy of two and a half years. It is eight 36 credit hour program and it’s comprised of 12 courses. Now, one of the number one questions I get on the phone is what is a forensic nurse? What sort of jobs are out there if a student is looking into forensic nursing?

Dr. Kathleen Sekula:

Okay, so there are many different jobs and many of our master’s students are the ones who have created those job descriptions. So we have nurses who were considered to be advanced practice forensic nurses when they get their master’s and what they offer within a healthcare system or within a clinic is a broad support for any patient who comes in who may have been a victim of trauma, who may have somehow been involved in something that would interface with law.

Dr. Kathleen Sekula:

So that advanced practice nurse, who’s in a large healthcare system, can be called throughout the system to help clinicians to learn how to collect evidence, how to assess the patient for trauma. We have some nurses who work in corrections and so they have specialty areas that they have developed where they interface with prisoners. And others within the correction system. Some are in risk management.

Dr. Kathleen Sekula:

It’s always surprising to me how many want to go into death investigations. So we have some who throughout the United States probably about 10 or 12 who are actually coroners. We have others that forensic advanced practice nurses who work within the medical examiners offices and those are just a few of the areas that we have and there are many others.

Amanda Schoening:

Thank you so much for that, Dr. Sekula. Can you talk a little bit about what you think makes Duquesne University’s forensic nursing program stand out from some of the others?

Dr. Kathleen Sekula:

Well, think one of the reasons that it stands out is because we interface with the Cyril H. Wecht Institute of Forensic Science and Law. Many of our students are attracted to the program because of the legal offerings that we have within the program. We have been in existence since 2003 I believe, and that was when we received our first grant from HERSA. So we have been able to develop the program in a very sophisticated way. And so, our faculty are very well-grounded in forensic nursing and it’s totally online, the program is.

Dr. Kathleen Sekula:

Other than when they take one of the three P’s, pharmacy, pharmacology, physical assessment and pharmacology, physical assessment, and isn’t that terrible? I can’t think of the third P. Pathophysiology, sorry. When they take physical assessment, they have to come to the university for a period of three, sometimes four days just to have hands-on experience.

Dr. Kathleen Sekula:

Otherwise, they can do the program in their homes, at work during lunch hour or wherever they are, they can get online and be involved in the program. Now, one of the things that’s most important for our program is that all of the students get to know each other. So within your cohort, when you join for the forensic program, you will get to meet all of your cohort online. It’s a very interactive setting.

Dr. Kathleen Sekula:

And what’s most important is that when you’re busy or if you get deployed or something like that, you take your program with you so that you can participate in courses at any time that works for you. And there are also live meetings with the students and faculty. So it’s not as if you’re taking a correspondence course. It’s a very interactive course where you get to know everyone within the program. And I think that makes us different.

Amanda Schoening:

I couldn’t agree more. Now, what can students expect to learn in this program? What does the curriculum look like? What are some really key highlights about what they will learn in a forensic nursing MSN?

Dr. Kathleen Sekula:

What they learn, most clinicians know about the sexual assault nurse examiner. That was the first role that we ever, ever identified as being forensic nursing in particular. And the International Association of Forensic Nurses is still very active. It began in the late 80s, early 90s, but what we have done since then is broadened that perspective of what a forensic nurse can do.

Dr. Kathleen Sekula:

So it’s a broad umbrella under which many different roles can be. You can choose many different roles with under that umbrella. And so our program has two legal courses that give nurses a broad understanding of the law and how it works and interfaces within the medical system, and within nursing itself. And so that’s what I think is what is unique about our program is the way that we have that broad umbrella under which many different roles of forensic nursing can be practiced.

Dr. Kathleen Sekula:

So when a nurse comes in, they start with the basic core courses that are within the master’s program. And then when they go into the specialty courses, they learn about all the areas of forensic nursing, anything that a forensic nurse can do, and then they choose within that broad umbrella of the area that they want to practice in, in particular.

Dr. Kathleen Sekula:

And so I think that’s what is so unique and also so attractive to the program is that you’re not, you’re not pigeonholed into one area of forensic nursing, but you learn about all the areas, you learn about how they all interface and how different areas of forensic nursing collaborate with other areas of forensic nursing.

Dr. Kathleen Sekula:

And that we can support each other in the roles that we do. Whether you become a death investigator. Whether you become a sexual assault nurse examiner. Whether you go into psychiatric forensic nursing. All of these areas can interface in different ways depending on the clinical setting where nurses choose to work.

Amanda Schoening:

Thank you so much for explaining that, Dr. Sekula and I have to agree with you. A lot of students do find that aspect that they are able to learn about all the different areas. One of the really interesting things about our program.

Amanda Schoening:

I do know that we have 225 clinical hours associated with it. Can you talk a little bit about how they would go about finding a clinical preceptor as well as different places that they’ll be able to do those clinicals?

Dr. Kathleen Sekula:

Sure, sure. One of the things that we do when the nurses first come into the program is we let them know where in the program those clinical hours will fall, so we give them a lot of heads up early on in the program about the clinical and where they choose to do that. Clinical is going to depend on the area of forensic nursing that they seem to be most interested in as they go through the program.

Dr. Kathleen Sekula:

So some nurses who come in to the program already know what they want to do when they’re finished with the master’s degree. Some of them don’t know. And so it’s through those early courses, the core courses in the program as well as all of the specialty courses. As they start to go through them, then they begin to see, I think this is what I want to do.

Dr. Kathleen Sekula:

I want to work with a law firm and I want to find out what a forensic nurse can do within a law firm. I want to work in a hospital setting where I can be a consultant throughout the hospital. So as they go through the program, they’re given very clear directions on when they need to interface with the person they want to be their preceptor and we help them in the courses.

Dr. Kathleen Sekula:

We talk about their clinical settings and so we help them choose who they might want to work with and how they would go about contacting that person, making a case for themselves. Many want to work in medical examiners office or coroners offices. So we help them make those contacts. Some have a much easier time finding their clinical than others. However, we have not had one yet who hasn’t been able to do their clinical experience.

Dr. Kathleen Sekula:

So I guess the answer to this, the short answer is many nurses find exactly the preceptor they want to do their clinical with and others need some help from us, a little bit more help. We’ve even had Dr. Wecht call medical examiners that they know in order to get nurses into that medical examiners office.

Dr. Kathleen Sekula:

Sometimes it’s a bit of an uphill battle to get some of them to understand how a nurse can help. But once we get a nurse into some of the settings, we have had wonderful feedback from preceptors who have said, “I had no idea what a nurse could offer to my program.” So again, you may know exactly where you want to go or we may need to help you find that clinical setting.

Amanda Schoening:

Thank you Dr. Sekula for expanding on that. I know that’s a big concern we often get, especially with depending on where they might want to do their clinical hours or just the lack of availability. But it’s great to hear that we are so supportive in all aspects to make sure that our students are able to find the right preceptor for them.

Amanda Schoening:

So with the campus residency, I know we have the one three to four-day visit related to the physical assessment course. What can students expect to do during that physical assessment course?

Dr. Kathleen Sekula:

Well, they’ll work with faculty on all of the physical assessment skills that they need to learn. So we actually have live standardized patients that we use and some of those standardized patients are sometimes faculty. And so, they will actually perform those skills. They have the direction of mainly the nurse practitioner faculty, who will walk them through all the skills that they need to learn.

Dr. Kathleen Sekula:

And then also the skills they need to take home with them when they leave campus to apply those skills within whatever preceptored experience they’re going to be doing in order to get the hours in they need for physical assessment. But students, I have to say, students seem to really, really enjoy the time that they spend on campus. Not only because they get to really know their cohort, they get to see them in person, go out to dinner with them, just sit and talk and to talk with faculty in groups.

Dr. Kathleen Sekula:

So it’s a very positive experience. I don’t know, chairs could probably answer this better. But I don’t think we’ve ever had any negative feedback on the on campus experience. It’s students, they work hard while they’re here, but they also have a lot of fun doing it.

Amanda Schoening:

That is awesome and exciting to hear as well. There is also a capstone project involved with the forensic nursing program. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Dr. Kathleen Sekula:

Okay. The capstone project is what they do when they are in their last course, which is a GNFO 521 and they work with, which is really nice because there’s usually not more than about 12 to 14 students in that course at any one time because we offer it every semester. And so they work with the faculty member who runs that course and she works with them to keep a log on their preceptor experience because that’s where they do their hours, their clinical hours.

Dr. Kathleen Sekula:

And not only do they keep a log, but they also do a presentation at the very end where they present, you create a PowerPoint presentation and they create a very professional presentation regarding the experience that they’ve had with their preceptor and how it impacts nursing. And if they wish, and we have had some students, we used to have all students creating a publishable manuscript. However, that became somewhat undoable because of the hours that are involved with that.

Dr. Kathleen Sekula:

However, we do have some students who still get manuscripts published. So a student can choose to do that. But we encourage them to do that early on in the program and then finish the manuscript in the last course. But right now, most of the students do a professional PowerPoint presentation as if they were going to present this at the International Association of Forensic Nurses or someone else. And we do help them with submitting an abstract for presentation.

Amanda Schoening:

Excellent. Thank you so much for elaborating on that project. Now I, think it’s time we kind of move on to our admissions requirements and the application process itself. So in order to qualify for the forensic nursing master’s degree program, we asked the students hold a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university with at least a 3.0 GPA. Now, it does not have to specifically be in a nursing field. You might have your RN license and a bachelor’s in psychology or criminal justice for example.

Amanda Schoening:

Additionally, in regard to your experience, we do ask that students have at least one year of full-time nursing experience before registering in your clinical or specialty coursework. And that you also have taken a statistics course and either your prerequisites or undergraduate study, and pass that class with a C or higher. As far as the admissions process goes, it’s fairly cut and dry.

Amanda Schoening:

We ask that you have your official transcripts sent to us as well as your resume, two electronically submitted references and then a professional goal statement as well. And now the goal statement is two pages, double spaced just explaining why you’re interested in the field of forensic nursing, what you’ve done as a nurse in your career and why you’re interested in attending here at Duquesne.

Amanda Schoening:

Now, Dr. Sekula, is there anything else that really makes a strong applicant for the forensic nursing program? Should they already have experience in the field of forensic nursing? Should they speak to it more in their goal statement? What do you think makes an applicant stand out?

Dr. Kathleen Sekula:

I can assure you that their goal statement is one of the most important things that we look at when a student or when a nurse is applying to our program. We’re very interested in their background and why they want to come into the forensic nursing program. And one of the things that applicants sometimes worry about and we’ll get calls about, and I’m sure that you probably get the same questions is, “Well, gee, I don’t for sure know what area I want to study in. What I would like to do when I’m done. So will that put me at a disadvantage when I’m applying?”

Dr. Kathleen Sekula:

And my answer to that is no. What we’re looking at, basically, one of the things we’re looking at is among the fact that we’re looking at what are your reasons for wanting to come in? And it may simply be, I’ve always had this feeling in the back of my mind that I want to do something with victims of violence. Or I want to do something that will interface with the legal system, but we’re also looking at your writing skills.

Dr. Kathleen Sekula:

So that’s very important. And we discuss that in depth when the admissions committee is looking over the goal statement when it comes to us at the school of nursing. So that’s what I would encourage students or applicants to really think about is make sure it’s a well-written statement, have somebody read it over. You don’t want it to have spelling errors and not sound professional, but don’t worry if you don’t have an actual goal in mind at the time.

Dr. Kathleen Sekula:

Like I want to definitely be a death investigator or whatever. Or I want to go into psychiatric forensic nursing. That’s not what we care about so much as your thought process as to how you came to want to apply. Because sometimes students also worry when they get into the courses, if there’s somebody in who’s been practicing as the same for years or practicing as a psychiatric forensic nurse for a long time. They worry that they can’t keep up with the students who have done all that.

Dr. Kathleen Sekula:

And what I always tell them in those courses, and I tell faculty who are teaching in those courses is that student who brings with them just new ideas and not sure of what they want to do has actually as much to offer, and sometimes more then somebody who’s already been in meshed in one area of practice and really has a much narrower focus.

Dr. Kathleen Sekula:

So again, I think the most important thing that I stress is that goal statement. It’s very important. We do read it and it means a lot to their application.

Amanda Schoening:

Excellent. Thank you so much for elaborating on that. I do know that students do get a little panicked when it comes to the goal statement, just not knowing what exactly to include in that. So I think that will help tremendously.

Amanda Schoening:

We also offer the post-certificate forensic nursing program, which takes just one year to complete. It’s 15 credit hours and five courses. If you can just briefly tell us how that differs from the MSN and forensic nursing program.

Dr. Kathleen Sekula:

Well, it differs in that you do not have to retake the core courses. And I like to tell students that the post-master certificate is pretty much the same as getting a second master’s. However, higher education has requires us to call it a post-master certificate rather than a second master’s. So that’s fine. We accept that however you should think about it. And I tell nurses who are going to be testifying in court that they can say that when their CV is being reviewed that it’s like a second master’s.

Dr. Kathleen Sekula:

Many of our nurses who come in for the certificate, the post-master certificate are nurse practitioners or whether they do have another master’s degree. Or we have, we also have forensic nurse practitioners who come into the forensic post-master’s or nurses who have completed the forensics who go on to get the post-master’s as a nurse practitioner.

Dr. Kathleen Sekula:

And as you know, we have two more nurse practitioners programs coming on board this coming fall. And I think that that combination of a nurse practitioner and a forensic nurse is the perfect combination and many students like it. Because they can take it back to their clinical setting and now they have both expertise in both nurse practitioner and as a forensic nurse.

Amanda Schoening:

Excellent. Thank you so much for elaborating on the difference there. Now, you’ll see on the screen we have the core coursework for the forensic nursing certificate program predominantly focused on the field of forensic nursing itself like Dr. Sekula said, you don’t have to retake the core MSN coursework and instead you can focus strictly on that forensic nursing study.

Amanda Schoening:

Now, in terms of clinical hours for this program, you do still have your forensic, clinical and capstone, so you do have 150 clinical hours. Which was discussed earlier on in this presentation about how you know where you would find your clinical sites, how we assist in that process by reaching out or explaining to you who to reach out to and making sure that you’re fully prepared to advance your practice as a forensic nurse through some hands-on hours.

Amanda Schoening:

Now, I believe the next step that we’ll go over here is the admissions requirements. So for the post-master certificate program, students have to hold a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university similarly to the MSN. It does not have to be a BSN program. It could be a bachelor’s in psych or criminology or criminal justice.

Amanda Schoening:

Though at the master’s level you do have to hold an MSN from an accredited college or university. Again, we asked the students have a 3.0 GPA an unencumbered RN license, and that you have successfully completed a statistics course with a C or higher. Again, very similar to the master’s degree. We asked the students submit their resume or their curriculum vitae as well as a professional goal statement outlining why they’re interested in becoming a forensic nurse or expanding their practice into the field of forensic nursing and then add along two electronically submitted references, one from an instructor or a previous academic reference, and then one from a professional reference.

Amanda Schoening:

Last but not least, of course, your official transcripts and a copy of your RN license. All that’s needed to complete this application. If you have any questions at all about the forensic nursing master’s degree or the post-master certificate or any of our other programs here at Duquesne, please feel free to reach out to us at any point in time.

Amanda Schoening:

You can give us a call and speak with either myself Jamella or one of our other colleagues at (888) 305-5749. Thank you again, Dr. Sekula. Do you have any last words for students that are interested in this program or becoming a forensic nurse?

Dr. Kathleen Sekula:

No and I thank you so much for this because it’s kind of nice to be able to talk to potential applicants and to tell you that it’s a very friendly program that once you come in, it’s almost like joining a family. and I know that all of you at Pearson are so supportive of applicants and supportive of students once they come into the program. So thank you for doing this today.

Amanda Schoening:

Thank you. Of course, Dr. Sekula and thank you [crosstalk 00:28:23].

Jamella Lewis:

Thank you very much, Dr. Sekula.

Dr. Kathleen Sekula:

Thank you. Thanks.