The term ‘forensic nurse’ seems to belong in a movie or television show where viewers would expect to see an attractive, brilliant nurse spending all of their time involved in deep investigation, piecing together the identity of a murderer with only faint clues from the victim’s fingernails and saliva. Although their identity is often glamorized by the entertainment industry, it is true that forensic nurses are important components in a criminal investigation.
However, while forensic nurses are indeed some very sharp minds who perform very important work, the whole Sherlock Holmes angle is an embellishment of screenwriters. Forensic nurses do work in harmony with police agencies and court systems to put together pieces of a crime puzzle, but it is not necessary for them to put their lives in danger in dark alleys to accomplish their objectives.
How Do Forensic Nurses Assist Police Agencies and the Courts?
Forensic nurses are many times the first line of evidence gathering during an investigation. Trained in the delicate science of collecting fluids, fibers, and other material, they are often charged with examining the victim, such as checking for bruising, cuts, and disorientation that may provide clues to the crime. Along with the obvious concept of carefully inspecting a victim’s health for any useful evidence, a forensic nurse will also make sure to save any items of interest culled from a suspected perpetrator of a crime while performing medical services.
Forensic nurses are also often called to submit testimony in court regarding crimes in which they have treated the victim and/or perpetrator. Because of this, it is imperative that a forensic nurse observes closely and takes detailed notes on all matters relating to the care of these individuals.
Forensic nurses also provide valuable details in cases of child or elderly abuse. Part of a forensic nurse’s training is in recognizing signs of abuse, even in cases where no abuse has been alleged. A forensic nurse must have some of the skills of a psychologist, demonstrating the ability to read between the lines of what is being said and read physical cues.
Forensic Nurses and the Recently Deceased
Part of a forensic nurse’s duties may be to search for information and clues from the bodies of deceased victims of crime and accidents. While these duties do not generally result in a discovery that turns a court case upside down as TV would have us believe, it is still very important work. Being trained in the subtleties of various types of evidence present on a lifeless body can lead a forensic nurse to discovering clues regarding the specific circumstances of a crime or accident.
The Future for Forensic Nurses
Forensic nursing is a relatively new field, and the term “forensic nurse” was not even coined until 1992. In the time since then, forensic nursing has steadily grown as a profession. More and more institutions of higher learning are offering courses in the field, and the number of health facilities that associate themselves with forensic nurses has also been steadily increasing.
Many forensic nurses work as freelancers, charging a healthy hourly rate to investigate the details surrounding a suspected criminal act, or work for hospitals and assist police in investigations.
Due to the many success stories surrounding forensic nursing, the field is likely to continue its growth for some time. The availability of freelancing forensic nurses is beneficial to hospitals and other healthcare and social working facilities, as they have the option of contracting for forensic nursing services as needed.
Contributing editor: Sarah Clark
Sarah became interested in forensic nursing after taking health and biology classes in high school and has considered herself a perpetual student of science ever since. Sarah is especially interested in writing about medicine, law and criminology in order to educate others about the field.