Ever Considered Forensic Nursing?

Ever Considered Forensic Nursing?

Ryan Myers / Beaumont Enterprise

April 20, 2009

A young woman with multiple stab wounds arrives at a Beaumont hospital.

As trauma surgeons begin to treat her injuries, a specialized nurse photographs the gashes.

She slips between the busy doctors, scraping underneath the woman’s fingernails, noting hand wounds typical in fighting off an attack with a knife.

Until recently , Southeast Texas patients only got this kind of treatment if they were sexual assault victims. But following a national trend, a team of forensic nurses at Beaumont’s Christus St. Elizabeth Hospital are using their special skills to collect evidence from a variety of violent crime victims.

“Medical care always comes first, but we can work to prevent forensic evidence from being lost during treatment,” said Angela Dillahunty, coordinator of the Christus St. Elizabeth forensic nursing program, formerly the sexual assault nurse examiner program.

These patients can be victims of violent crime, elder abuse or domestic violence, but the expanded program’s largest numbers are victims of child abuse.

“We haven’t always done the best job that we can in identifying and documenting child abuse as early as we can so that there can be intervention before the abuse becomes worse,” Dillahunty said. “But we’re learning to use these medical-forensic resources we’ve developed for sexual assault with other patients who may have forensic needs.”

Still, of about 200 patients the program’s four certified nurses see each year, about 90 percent are sexual assault victims.

But sexual assault victims can be child abuse victims, too.

A 13-year-old girl saw Dillahunty after telling a teacher that her father was having sex with her.

“We did an ultrasound and she was eight months pregnant,” Dillahunty said. "When I told her she was pregnant, the first thing she said was “Maybe somebody will believe me now.’”

Without evidence, a little girl’s word – or anyone’s – goes only so far.

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