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Home > Article Categories > Medical Articles > More Forensic Nurses Needed

More Forensic Nurses Needed

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NEWARK, Del. -- An emergency room nurse named Anita Symonds has an eye for details. She can distinguish between an accident and an intentional injury. She can discern when color, shape, or pattern of a bruise hints something occurred to a patient that is unlike the story being said.

She realizes the value of utilizing photos to preserve details, of swabbing for bodily fluids, and distinguishing gunshot matter, all without hindering with a patient?s care. Most importantly, she knows her work needs a sensitive touch, looking at patients? emotional trauma can be just as dreadful as their physical injuries.

Symonds is not constantly certain where the data she collect will lead, however as a forensic nurse, it is her duty to make certain crucial details about a patient?s injuries and condition are recorded. When required, she takes the stand in court ? helping the prosecutors or the defense, depending on the case.

Symonds is also a coordinator of the forensic nurse examiner program at Christiana Care Health System, and she is searching for other similar nurses to join her in this flourishing, more and more technical specialty

"Literally, I'm looking at a patient completely different than someone else," Symonds reveals. "I'm noticing what their clothes look like while another nurse is focusing on their shortness of breath. We encompass all this other stuff, being detailed. You're doing something beyond emergency room nursing."

When someone surmises a crime may have been committed against the patient, forensic nurses get involved.

A forensic nurse may be part of the team that charges into exam rooms, in trauma cases like gunshot victims. At the same time the trauma staff checks vitals and looks after the patient's needs, the forensic nurse is also functioning but in a different way. Forensic nurses collect and label clothing and belongings, record injury patterns, and listen for statements the patient uttered in an excited tone that may suggest who the offender is.

Symonds explains that as forensic nurse they gather evidences, take pictures of injuries, however they leave the medical treatment to the trauma team. "We can get in and out without getting in the way. You can't have your staff who is giving the care and addressing their physical needs also be able to collect evidence."

Although in other cases, a crime may not be instantly apparent, for instance an elderly person who comes in wearing dirty clothes and having multiple bedsores that - with additional tests - may show signs of elderly abuse. The state Division of Family Services, on the other hand, must be notified by the hospital staff in cases that involve abused children under the age of 18. Delaware does not demand reporting situations of domestic violence or adult sexual assault, which means evidence, is handed to police only if the patient agrees to file charges.

Dawn Culp, a forensic nurse coordinator who is regarded an expert witness for sexual violence cases, said, "We still offer to them safety planning with all the different options a patient has."

Majority of the hospitals in Delaware have someone on staff trained to carry out tasks for cases that involve abuse or assault.

Culp reveals, Bayhealth Medical Center, which includes Kent General and Milford Memorial hospitals, keeps nine nurses trained as sexual assault examiners, with another 14 presently in training. Other nurses went through training on handling cases of abuse and violence, and, frequently, she explained, a forensic nurse is available at the hospitals no matter the hour to care for patient.

There are seven forensic nurses on staff assisting in assault and abuse cases in Beebe Medical Center, while Nanticoke Memorial Hospital has eight at their disposal.

In 1996, Christiana Care began its forensic nursing program, initially, with ten nurses. Now, it has 19 forensic nurses -- with someone available 24/7 in the emergency department ? qualified to handle cases of sexual assault, domestic violence, child and elder abuse, and trauma injuries such as gunshot and stab wounds. In 2010, just below 1,500 patients were attended to by a forensic nurse, however not every patient was established to be a crime victim.

Symonds said, with the help of a $10,000 appropriation from Verizon, forensic nurses from Christiana Care will be able to attend an eight-hour training session on identifying entrance and exit wounds for living gunshot victims.

Culp revealed she was attracted to forensics because, as an emergency room nurse, she has seen firsthand the effects of violence within the community. She has begun as a sexual assault nurse examiner, awakened by the memory of a sexual abuse victim who had to wait eight hours for treatment.

Later on, Culp returned to school to study how to utilize forensics in abuse and assault cases. Her know-how on the field are applied in treating victims of beatings, stabbings, gunshots, and in cases of abuse against a child or an elderly. Having the opportunity to advocate for the patients, keeps her positive about her job.

She narrated that people come to the emergency room with gunshot or stab wounds. However, she said, there might be a patient who is a direction admission, perhaps someone with pneumonia, and later on you?d find out they?re actually being abused by a caregiver. "There are all different entities here."


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