The Texas A&M Health Science Center is asking state lawmakers for $2 million to start a first-of-its-kind Department of Forensic Nursing to train nurses on gathering evidence and properly treating patients who have been abused.
Bridging the gap between legal and medical worlds, forensic nurses are specifically trained to gather evidence on sexual assault, domestic violence, child abuse, elder mistreatment and more. Currently, the center offers courses in forensic nursing, but Health Science Center Executive Vice President and CEO Brett Giroir said he wants the college of nursing to expand its offerings to include a certificate and a master’s degree.
“There is a desperate need for more forensic nurses,” Giroir said. “It’s not just a lack — there is a desperate need. And I don’t know any physician who takes care of these patients who would not absolutely be enthusiastic to have trained professionals who can assist in these very difficult situations.”
Giroir said he wished there were forensic nurses serving in hospitals when he practiced as a pediatric critical care physician.
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“Every time I worked in the emergency room, every single night, I had to examine child abuse, alleged victims or victims,” Giroir said. “I’m trained to take care of people who have head injuries from child abuse, but you’re not really trained to bridge that medical-legal gap.”
School officials are shopping the idea around to lawmakers, and while no bills have been introduced, Giroir said he was optimistic about the department's funding chances.
"Lawmakers are extremely enthusiastic. Whether it makes it into the budget or the final proposal, we don’t know," Giroir said. "This to me is the biggest of no-brainers. It’s a relatively low-cost program. It absolutely helps and supports victims, with whom we are all sympathetic. And it actually helps the legal system have more effective prosecution."
Trisha Sheridan, a forensic nurse and clinical assistant professor at Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Nursing, said the department would ensure more forensic nurses are available to Texas hospitals. In Brazos County, Sheridan said, there are fewer than five.
“Right now, there is just not enough forensic nurses in any hospital,” Sheridan said. “We know how much rape costs. We know how much individually it costs a patient, mentally, physically. It costs the state. So if you have a forensic nurse taking care of those patients as the first responder, it is going to help them not only not be re-victimized, but also they’re going to get better evidence.”
Kara Comte, an attorney in Brazos County, said forensic nurses are are especially helpful in trying crimes without any witnesses because they know what kind of abusive actions cause injuries.
“They’re tremendously helpful to us,” Comte said.