2023 Forensic Nursing Week

Source: Jocelyn Anderson, PhD, g, University of Arkansas for Medical Science, College of Nursing; Jessica Draughon Moret, PhD, RN, Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing at University of California at Davis

Holding its first professional meeting in 1992 and recognized by the American Nurses Association as a specialty in 1995, forensic nursing came of age at the turn of the century, which makes the profession a Millennial (a person [or profession] that was born between the early 1980s and late 1990s). I am well aware forensic nurses existed in practice long before the "official" naming; however, I thought the impending 30th birthday of the naming and Millennial context would provide a great jumping-off point for this commentary. During its maturation, the field has experienced the explosion of technology in all aspects of our work (see electronic health records or Katherine Scafide's recent work using colorimetry and alternate light sources to visualize and study bruises). Searching Google® (fun fact: forensic nursing is older than Google® and many may remember when there were other search engines around), many folks have aimed to define the characteristics and binding traits of Millennials. As someone who studies gender-based violence and not sociology or anthropology, I am not in a particular place to judge which set of characteristics and binding traits is better, so instead of trying, I have chosen an arbitrary list of Millennial Characteristics from this market research blog (that I have no relationship with).

They're influential in the workplace

Forensic nurses change practice. We advocate for state and federal policy change. We conduct research to understand and support our practice. We educate multidisciplinary teams, judges, juries, co-workers, our own families, and an increasing number of future health care practitioners.

They're confident with technology

As called out above, forensic nursing has seen a lot of technology change; this tends to be a defining feature of Millennials. Growing up alongside the internet — paper charts morphed into Electronic Health Records (EHRs) and Polaroid® cameras transformed into iPhone® apps that upload photos directly to those EHRs. Today's new forensic nurse will never know a day without touch DNA, while some of those who founded our professional organizations recall the days when locating a lab that would test for DNA at all were few and far between.   

They're cautious about their personal data 

I literally laughed out loud at my desk. Forensic nurses spend a lot of time with lawyers — we have seen the good, bad, and ugly of sharing data on the internet. We have taken care of patients who date online. So yeah, as a group, I think this is eerily spot on. 

They're quietly optimistic about the environment

If we didn't think that our work in prevention, education, and harm reduction was going to change the world we live in, I don't think many of us would stay here long. We vary a bit in how quiet we are (it's not an adjective that often gets used to describe me), but I think we do tend to end up in this field because we think it matters. If we wanted the highest paying nursing job or the best hours or the least paperwork, we'd certainly choose another specialty. 

Climate change is concerning. Increases in weather-related events place refugees and populations at risk, decrease stability, and lead to increases in violence. The work of forensic nursing must focus on providing the necessary resources, including a host of competing priorities. Work from the National Institute of Nursing Research is focusing on the social determinants of health (like violence) and climate change; this brings me some hope. 

They've avid savers 

Savers of what… I know the original list probably meant this to be financial, but I'm going literal here. Have you read a forensic nurse's note? We are the supreme rulers of writing down everything. In the few evaluations that have been done, we also do a pretty solid job of collecting physical evidence from patients. Compared to physicians or nurses without forensic training, evidence collected by forensic nurses is more complete, usable, and appears to provide law enforcement and prosecutors with information necessary to move cases forward.

They love to travel 

I have had the opportunity to meet some amazing forensic nurses in my travels. 

If you are also interested in travel, some opportunities to note are: 


They're nostalgic 

Not gonna lie, this is one I have a love-hate relationship with. As the field of forensic nursing continues to grow, our founders are not getting younger. I adore that we continue to support them and shout out their fabulousness. I also question if we risk getting stuck in the quintessential nursing rut of "because we've always done it that way" when we rely on nostalgia and our founders for answers. They provided the underpinnings. Now the challenge turns to you to look around your own practice — forensic and otherwise. Who is doing new things? How might they be applied to better serve patients with forensic and health care needs? How can you build up those ideas — whether they are coming from newcomers to the field, your trusted preceptor, or you? 

They're competitive 

This may not be our best trait. We make it hard to join us sometimes. As with any of the things on this list, they are over-generalized stereotypes and not universal, but as far as this one applies, I think it can hurt us. Becoming a nurse is hard — nursing schools turn away literally thousands of qualified applicants a year. We often make becoming a forensic nurse harder, telling students or new grads to "come back when they have more experience" rather than creating pathways from novice to expert within our own field. I've taught undergraduate electives in general forensic nursing that were full semester after semester (and know I am not alone). When I hear the oft-repeated refrain that we lack forensic nurses in practice because we need to train more interested people yet simultaneously insist new graduate nurses need two years of experience before they can train as a forensic nurse, you quickly lose my sympathy. Having forensic nurses in practice, like in any other specialty area, requires commitment from those with the power to create and maintain those positions. This means funding and staffing them at levels that are appropriate to the workload (I see you programs that have two nurses taking rotating 7 days on/7 days off call for $3.00/hour). 

They're obsessed with podcasts

As a human who is also a Millennial, I can attest to the truth of this. Short, accessible, funny, serious, informative, or entertaining content, all in audio format so you can listen during your morning commute, the time you spend deleting junk email, or while you're cooking dinner. For this Millennial Characteristic, you get some of my podcast recommendations that feature forensic nurses, public health, and other fun science. 

  • Black Sheep Nurse: All the things most folks never knew you could do as a nurse (I say most folks because this podcaster loves forensic nurses and has featured many). It's not a forensic nursing podcast, but definitely includes some solid nursing and forensic nursing content. 
  • Public Health On Call: Short, 15-minute-or-less episodes, covers the entire range of public health things from COVID to West Nile Virus to police violence to missing and murdered indigenous women. 
  • This Podcast Will Kill You: Each episode covers a disease — most that have been around a LONG time — including history, pathology, and epidemiology. Bonus, if you check out their Instagram for each episode, they also have recipes for a Quarantini and alcohol-free Placeborita to enjoy while listening. 
  • Just Science: Published by a long-standing research org and funded initially with Department of Justice (DOJ) dollars, this podcast covers a wide range of forensic science topics. 
  • Academy of Forensic Nursing — Bell Work Talks: Covers topics related to forensic nursing and features many forensic nurses. Style ranges from scholarly conversations to personal commentaries about topics of interest. 


Happy Forensic Nurses Week! 


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