Nurses Add Detective Work to Their Job Skills
Sherlock Holmes doesn't hold a candle to a talented forensic nurse.
July 17, 2009
LOUISVILLE — As Maureen Fogarty approached her patient at University of Louisville Hospital, his dressing gown slipped, revealing the imprint of a tire running across his chest.
In the past, Fogarty might have seen that tire mark only as the nasty aftermath of being a crime victim.
But after special training as a forensic nurse, Fogarty recognized that print as evidence – possibly the missing link to finding out who had run over her injured patient in June before fleeing the scene – and she alerted police.
Across the country, forensic nursing programs are pairing nursing care with training in evidence collection so that nurses can try to preserve evidence of a crime at the same time they provide medical treatment.
Forensic nursing dates back to the 1970s. It was recognized officially by the American Nurses Association as a specialty field in 1995. In most states, there are nurses who have been trained to document carefully the medical conditions of victims of rape and sexual assault, according to Carey Goryl, executive director of the International Association of Forensic Nurses.
In cities including Louisville, Colorado Springs and Houston, nurses are being trained to expand their skills to help victims of crimes other than sexual assaults, including abuse, shootings and traffic incidents.
Bill Smock, a professor of emergency medicine at the University of Louisville School of Medicine and a police surgeon, began a program at the university’s hospital in September 2008.
Certification to perform forensic exams
The nurses there, who receive no extra pay, have spent more than 400 hours in lectures, going to crime scenes, shadowing medical examiners, participating in mock trials and doing other coursework in order to get certified to perform forensic exams at the hospital, he says.
Eight nurses are in the program and seven have already been certified, he says. Skills will be kept current through ongoing training.
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The nurses act as consultants when emergency room physicians or police request it. A forensic nurse can look at a wound and help find clues about the weapon that was used, Smock says. Many times, the forensic nurse is involved with collecting gunshot residue, or with sex crimes, bodily fluids left behind.
“We’re basically doing a living autopsy,” says Smock, who adds he is seeking grant funding to pay the nurses to consult on cases.