A Look at Forensic Nursing with Dr. Deb Stone

While forensics is a relatively new area of nursing, just recognized in the 1990s, it’s a very important and meaningful one. Dr. Deborah Stone, an associate professor at Fitchburg State University, is an expert in forensic nursing. She teaches the Caring for Forensic Populations course in the Fitchburg State online RN to BS in Nursing program and is the chair of the Graduate Forensic Nursing Program.

The forensic course in the RN to BS in Nursing program lays the foundation for this topic and gives students guidance on whether it’s something they’d be interested in pursing at the graduate level, where Dr. Stone also teaches.

“This course is a brief, but broad introduction to forensic nursing,” Dr. Stone says. “Where does it come from, what is the history, different types of forensic nursing — those are the things we cover. I go into some specifics as well, such as how ethics applies and the core competencies of forensic nursing.”

Dr. Stone also notes that students will not become experts by taking this one course, but they will be exposed to what’s required to become competent.

What Will I Learn in This Forensic Nursing Course?

The topics Dr. Stone covers in the accelerated seven-week course are varied. She starts with the short history of forensic nursing, including Virginia Lynch’s pioneering efforts of bringing it into the profession, then moves on to additional aspects of the specialty, including:

  • Bullying
  • Human trafficking
  • Child abuse
  • Female genital mutilation
  • Patterned injuries

An important part of the course — and of forensic nursing in general — is documenting, preserving and collecting evidence.

“Being a forensic nurse, you are expected to recognize and preserve and collect evidence, and to document that appropriately,” Dr. Stone says. “Unfortunately, the typical undergrad in nursing program doesn’t get into that area. So I do cover a little bit about it — about recognizing pattern injuries, which might be bite marks or strangulation. We get into some specifics, but not a lot.”

Is This Course Helpful for All Nurses?

The forensic nursing course can serve as a foundation for nurses who want to get more involved in this specialization, but is it helpful for nurses who are not interested in working with forensic populations?

“This course does have value for all nurses because, first of all, increasing your ability to assess and document in nursing are just incredible skills that we can never be good enough at,” Dr. Stone replies. “And the other reason this would be good for anybody, is because — though unfortunate — violence is really epidemic in our world. The odds of getting through a nursing career without ever being exposed to or caring for a victim or perpetrator are almost impossible. You’re going to come into contact with it. Even if you’re not the expert, it’d probably help you to have some understanding of what’s going on.”

Dr. Stone notes that many RNs are already working with forensic populations in their day-to-day work, which makes the course relevant and important for those nurses as well. Caring for forensic populations can happen in a variety of settings, including clinics, emergency departments, prisons and schools.

Is Forensic Nursing Difficult?

Working with victims — and sometimes perpetrators — of violence can be a challenge even for veteran nurses, but it’s also one of the areas where nurses can really help their patients.

“It’s unpleasant to think about these things, but it’s an area where we can make a difference, and that’s just awesome,” Dr. Stone says. “I’ve never felt more gratified in anything I’ve ever done than caring for a victim of violence. I can really make a difference to that person.

“We don’t always get to do that, and I think as nurses, that’s what we really want to do. It’s what brings us into the field to begin with.”

Learn more about the Fitchburg State online RN to BS in Nursing program.

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