For more than 30 years, forensic nurses have found a community in the International Association of Forensic Nurses (IAFN), and this week is particularly important for these nurses with the annual celebration of Forensic Nurses Week

Minority Nurse recently caught up with forensic nurse Angelita Olowu BSN, RN, SANE-A, SANE-P, to find out more about this branch of nursing. Olowu serves as a forensic nursing specialist with IAFN and has 14 years of nursing experience and a background in emergency and trauma nursing. 

In her current role, Olowu provides education and technical assistance on various topics related to the care of patients that have experienced personal violence including the recommendations within both of the National Adolescent/Adult and Pediatric Sexual SAFE Protocols.

She teaches IAFN Adolescent/Adult and Pediatric Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner didactic and clinical courses, provides education statewide and nationally, and she has taught trainings and courses for Indian Health Service. In addition, Olowu works on several grant projects held by the IAFN.

What was your path to becoming a forensic nurse?

I have a nursing background working in the emergency room and in trauma. While working in a busy trauma center, I learned about Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANEs) and decided I would pay and take the training for the education, not to become a SANE. When the training came around again, I registered and made arrangements to be off for that week and that was the start for me. During the 40-hour didactic, I realized that it took a very special nurse to work with that patient population, and I thought to myself, “I would love to give it a shot.” From there, I eventually moved forward with my clinical training and eventually took a per diem SANE position in a sister hospital to the emergency department I was working in. 

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In that role and in my ED/Trauma nurse role, I realized there was so much overlap with sexual assault and other forms of interpersonal violence, so in addition to the education that was being provided and encouraged through the SANE program that I was a part of, I sought out additional education and training on other types of interpersonal violence. Additionally, I decided I would like to provide care to pediatric patients experiencing abuse and maltreatment. So, I moved forward with getting education and training to work with pediatrics as well. The program that I was working with started out seeing only patients who were sexually assaulted and then grew into a complete forensic nursing program seeing the entire range of patients experiencing interpersonal violence across the life span, After several years as working in the program as a per diem nurse, I was provided the opportunity to practice forensic nursing fulltime and that was life changing for me. 

What might people not know about the role of a forensic nurse?

I do not think that people often realize that forensic nursing encompasses many types of nursing and depending on what community you live and work in, the type of forensic nursing that is being practiced may vary. Oftentimes, people only refer to SANE nursing as forensic nursing but some other practices of forensic nursing include: correctional nursing, death investigators, nurse coroners, some forms of psychiatric nursing, and nurses working in the response to mass disasters. 

Additionally, forensic nurses provide care and treatment to patients experiencing elder abuse and maltreatment, human trafficking, child abuse and maltreatment, intimate partner violence, strangulation, and some traumas such patients who may present to the ED with penetrating injuries such as stab wounds and gunshot wounds for example. 

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If nurses are considering a move into forensic nursing, what kind of preparation and/or considerations should they make to determine if this might be a good fit for them?

One of the first things I usually share with nurses is to think about what type of forensic nursing they are most interested in pursuing and then see how forensic nurses are utilized in their community or in the community that they plan to practice in. 

Forensic nursing practice varies from state to state. It is most helpful for the nurse to have a solid nursing foundation established as a registered nurse, at minimum, prior to going into forensic nursing. This step allows for the nurses to be comfortable with their clinical skills, have developed their assessment skills and their critical thinking, and become solid with their communication skills. All of these are critical in forensic nursing. Once they have a good idea of what type of forensic nursing they are interested in, they should move forward with looking into the educational path for that particular type of forensic nursing. Additionally, I would encourage those nurses to connect with forensic nurses currently practicing in their state and in their community to get a better idea of what practice looks like in their area. 

What makes a career path as a forensic nurse satisfying? and challenging?

For me personally, I am fulfilled by the patients allowing me to be a part of their process of healing. I am fulfilled by knowing that I am providing patients and their families the best care that I am able to during such a difficult time in their lives. It is the patients themselves and my ability to provide something to them that gets me through the challenging aspects of the job. 

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The challenges can range from the complexity of the actual patients and their situations, to the resources that are available and/or the lack of appropriate resources for some populations and in some communities. Additional challenges may include lack of support for the presence of forensic nurses and forensic nursing teams within hospitals and communities. Lack of funding to provide appropriate compensation for forensic nurses can also be a challenge in some communities and healthcare systems, 

What would you like current forensic nurses to remember each day?

I would like them to remember that with each patient, there is an opportunity to make a positive impact on that patient and their family. Your time with that patient is all about that patient and what they need during that time to start the process of healing and moving forward beyond that traumatic incident. Although forensic nurses have been provided additional education and training to obtain forensic evidence from their patients with the patient’s consent, they are medical clinicians providing medical care to their patients, first and foremost, and they should ensure that they provide care that keeps the patient in the center while engaging and empowering the patient in the process of providing that care.

 

Julia Quinn-Szcesuil
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