By Daria Waszak, MSN, RN, CEN, COHN-S via nursing.advanceweb.com
When Virginia A. Lynch, MSN, RN, FAAFS, FAAN, walked into her first crime laboratory, the Star Wars-like equipment, pulsing lights, smells of paint and formaldehyde, and evidence, such as weapons, blood and teeth didn’t scare her away; it left her intrigued and inspired.
“It was a moment that will forever be imprinted in my mind,” Lynch said. “Curiosity turned to fascination, and I couldn’t learn enough or fast enough,” Lynch said. “My interest became a preoccupation and evolved into a passion. I became a regular visitor of the crime laboratory, and the more I learned, the more I wanted to know.”
Her obsession with forensics ultimately unfolded a paradigm shift, namely, a whole new nursing specialty called forensic nursing.
This unique opportunity to visit the crime lab took place in Texas in 1982 and grew out of her observations as an emergency nurse. Lynch noticed how evidence, such as clothing, specimens, records or personal items were often lost, discarded or returned to family instead of secured and handed over to authorities.
“When I asked the police if the person who abused, raped or killed these patients would be caught and punished, they told me it was unlikely because the doctors and nurses lost and destroyed the evidence,” she said. “It had never occurred to me that the healthcare professions were unintentionally obstructing justice.”
World of Knowledge
Memorialization of injuries through preservation of evidence and meticulous documentation can help ascertain the level of intent and probable cause for charges to be filed against assailants.
“The investigation of trauma prior to surgical intervention or other life saving measures is essential to preserve the image and description of injury before it is lost through a sea of wound cleansing antiseptic, insertion of instruments or suturing,” Lynch said. “
This requires specific skills and forensic techniques and will later assist law enforcement officers or forensic pathologists to determine if force was used, type of weapon involved, or if it was perhaps self-inflicted.”
Nurses make ideal forensic professionals because of their education in subjects such as anatomy and physiology, chemistry and pathophysiology, as well as their attention to detail and thorough documentation.
Nurses are trained in psychology and crisis intervention and their interpersonal skills make them effective communicators with both patients and their families-especially when relaying sensitive information. Nurses are also trained how to handle specimens, maintain infection control and avoid contamination.
“Nurses are highly skilled in the essential tools of identifying trauma and the recovery of specimens – the two foremost responsibilities of the forensic nurse examiner, second only to preserving life,” Lynch said. “Ideally, the forensic nurse is not a part of the trauma team, but rather the additional professional who has not previously been available in the trauma suite to address the necessary forensic services.”
Lynch saw there was a world of knowledge out there in the forensic discipline, and if paired with perspectives of nurses, it would be a perfect marriage. She coordinated with the director of the crime lab to establish a process for evidence preservation and security in the hospital. And forensic nursing was born. In December of 2012, it became a certification specialty recognized by the American Nurses Credentialing Center.
“After 30 years of experiencing the lightning strikes of ‘Aha! Moments,’ in the forensic sciences and merging these concepts into the science of nursing there has been a continuous mélange of beauty and excitement in an often dark and frightening place.”
Today, Lynch is a faculty member at Forensic Nursing and Forensic Health Science, Beth El College of Nursing, University of Colorado, Colorado Springs (UCCS) and an international scholar and consultant. She is a forensic clinical nurse specialist, Fellow of the American Academy of Nursing, and Fellow of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences. Read the full article here.
Virgina Lynch will be holding a full day pre-conference workshop at the National Forensic Nursing Conference. The workshop will be held on the 19th February 2014 in Melbourne and will provide participants with key information to understand the clinical role in death scene investigation. To view the full workshop outline and to register, please visit the event website.