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Why Forensic Nurses Are a Key Part of an Effective Healthcare Approach to Violence

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Jennifer Pierce-Weeks, R.N., SANE-A, SANE-P, CEO

International Association of Forensic Nurses

Victims of violence and abuse require complex care from health professionals who possess expertise in providing trauma-informed, evidence-based, medically and legally sound care and treatment.

People who experience intimate partner violence, child and elder maltreatment, strangulation, human trafficking, and sexual violence often face substantial short- and long-term health and legal consequences. Forensic nurses are poised to meet these patients’ needs.

The role of a forensic nurse

A forensic nurse is a registered or advanced practice nurse who has received specific education and clinical training to provide specialized patient care, collect evidence, testify in civil and criminal proceedings, and collaborate with other disciplines — such as advocacy groups, law enforcement, and the judiciary.

Grounded in the nursing process, forensic nursing care is not separate and distinct from other forms of patient care — rather, it is integrated into the overall care needs of each individual patient. Many forensic nurses work in the emergency department of acute care hospitals. Others staff child and family advocacy centers, practice in correctional or psychiatric settings, are employed by coroner and medical examiner offices, or work for humanitarian organizations.

A qualified specialist

The most widely recognized subspecialty in forensic nursing is the sexual assault nurse examiner (SANE). Before performing medical forensic sexual assault evaluations, a SANE first completes specific didactic and clinical preparation to care for adult, adolescent, and pediatric patients.

Applying established, evidence-based standards of care, the SANE ensures all patients reporting sexual violence receive a competent medical forensic examination that reflects their developmental, cultural, racial, ethnic, sexual, and socioeconomic diversity.

After beginning practice, a SANE can choose to achieve board certification as a sexual assault nurse examiner – adult/adolescent (SANE‐A) or sexual assault nurse examiner – pediatric/adolescent (SANE‐P®). Holding this certification is a potent statement that a nurse has accepted the challenge of preparing for, demonstrated a refined knowledge of, and exercised critical thinking skills in his or her nursing practice. 

The SANE‐A and SANE‐P credentials provide objective validation of a nurse’s expertise, enhance their professional development, and demonstrate professional growth. Health systems that educate, access, and consult forensic nurses equip their communities with a vital means to address the healthcare needs of violence and improve the health of all.

Jennifer Pierce-Weeks, R.N., SANE-A, SANE-P, CEO, International Association of Forensic Nurses, [email protected]

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