Catching Up with Forensic Nurse Angelita Olowu

Catching Up with Forensic Nurse Angelita Olowu

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. 

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. 

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. 

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.


Forensic Nurses Use Nursing and Criminal Justice Skills

Forensic Nurses Use Nursing and Criminal Justice Skills

Forensic Nurses Week launches with a special focus on November 12 as Forensic Nurses Day. Sponsored by the International Association of Forensic Nurses, this week helps raise awareness of the work nurses in the specialty do and educates those who might interested in forensic nursing as a career path.

If you are fascinated by medical, legal, and criminal issues, a career path as a forensic nurse will address all your interests. Nurses in this specialty work with patients of all ages and all backgrounds who are impacted by violence or intentional injury from abuse or neglect. With their specialized understanding of violence and its impact on people, forensic nurses are excellent advocates and their work brings an antiviolence perspective to their community interactions.

Their work locations are as varied as the specific focus they have. A forensic nurse can help victims of violence who are being treated in an emergency department or they may work in a coroner’s office. Some forensic nurses gain additional certification in Advanced Forensic Nursing (AFN-BC) or as a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE-A or SANE-P).

Because of the broad opportunities in the field of forensic nursing, the professional skills in this specialty cover a lot of ground. While treating a patient, the nurse will focus on the immediate medical issues with care and compassion for the survivor’s experience. But the role of this nurse also focuses on evidence collection and making sure an exam is able to gather as much evidence as possible.

Duties in this role diverge from many traditional nursing specialties because they also dovetail with the legal system. Because forensic nurses work so closely with patients who have experienced some form of violence, they are often called upon to provide testimony in court based on their medical findings and interaction.

Nurses who work with survivors of violence may sometimes work with local or federal authorities after a disaster in the community, both intentional and natural. They also may choose to work in a psychiatric setting or within a correctional institution.

If you’re interested in this career path, gaining broad nursing experience before moving into forensic nursing will help you. Forensic nurses see many different kinds of injuries and trauma–both physical and emotional–and being able to call on a wide background of nursing skills will only help you be a better nurse. You should also have an interest in the criminal justice and legal systems. Although your training as a forensic nurse will familiarize you with specific details and duties that you’ll need, having a good grasp of these systems will help you learn faster. And because the intensity of the work can sometimes be distressing, forensic nurses will need personal strategies for recognizing how to manage the impacts of their work on their own mental and physical health.

Forensic nurses play a critical role in the connections between the healthcare, patient advocacy, and criminal justice systems.

Is Forensic Nursing a Career for You?

Is Forensic Nursing a Career for You?

One of the most appealing aspects of the nursing profession is the wide choice nurses have when deciding on a specialty. Depending on personal interest or experience, educational goals, or opportunities, nurses have the ability to work in virtually every location and with every population.

Nurses who choose the forensic nursing specialty are driven to offer medical and emotional care while also helping law enforcement. Forensic nurses specialize in treating patients who have suffered injury and trauma due to intentional violence or neglect.

According to the International Association of Forensic Nurses, forensic nurses treat those who are in physical and emotional pain and who are traumatized by what happened to them. Patients they see may have suffered domestic violence, sexual assault, or have been victims of random violence or a catastrophic event. They might have experienced severe neglect leading to health problems and emotional pain. Some nurses work with the perpetrators of violence and work with criminal offenders in a psychiatric forensic nurse specialty.

Because of the criminal nature of the injuries inflicted, law enforcement officials are often involved in these cases. Patients in the care of forensic nurses need compassionate and careful medical attention, and they are often asked to work with law enforcement to bring justice. Even if they want to provide details and tell their side of the story, doing so can trigger new trauma for patients.

Forensic nurses work with their patients to help them heal and recover, but they do so with a careful approach that never loses sight of the patient’s experience. While nurses provide care, they are also collecting evidence that can be used to help bring those who abused or harmed the victim to justice. Forensic nurses are often called upon to provide testimony about the care they gave, the injuries they saw and recorded and other details that may help investigating law enforcement and a legal team.

If this specialty is something that appeals to you, becoming a registered nurse is your first step. Many forensic nurses go on to earn nurse practitioner credentials and certification as well. And as a forensic nurse, there are many opportunities for you to continue to advance your education so you can help your patients most effectively. Since 1976, the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) nursing program has helped victims of sexual assault by offering compassionate healthcare while also collecting essential evidence. States implement their own programs, like this SANE program in Massachusetts and this SANE certification program in Texas.

Although no nursing specialty is easy or free from seeing trauma, a forensic nurse’s role sees significant trauma on a daily basis. To continue to offer the best nursing care possible, forensic nurses should be particularly mindful of their own mental health so they are able to cope with the impacts of violence and neglect they see every day.

Forensic nurses serve a vulnerable population that depends on the life-changing care they provide. If you’re motivated to help patients and have a commitment to justice, this is a good career path to explore.