Coordinator Susan Short displays the proper form of DNA swabbing during the Forensic Nursing 20th anniversary earlier this month. (Ben Lypka/Abbotsford News)

Abbotsford forensic nursing program reflects on 20 years

Valuable program celebrates 20 years serving Fraser Valley patients

For the past 20 years they have been on the frontline for Abbotsford residents.

Forensic nurses have proven to be a critical tool ever since, providing care to people who have experienced sexual assault, domestic violence and other forms of intentional interpersonal violence.

The Abbotsford Regional Hospital and Cancer Centre is one of only five locations in the province that provide the valuable service.

It was back in 1999 that Forensic Nurse Examiners first arrived at the old MSA Hospital and in the years since the scope of the job has evolved and the number of patients using the service continues to grow. When the program first came to Abbotsford, the expectation was 52 patients per year. Last year saw the number reach 106, and 2019 has seen 129 use the service so far.

The program celebrated its anniversary earlier this month, inviting the public to view resources and education materials, ask nurses questions and participate in several hands-on stations.

RELATED: Evidence of violence: forensic nurses balance health care and justice

Susan Short, the coordinator of the service for the Abbotsford program, said the anniversary is a time to reflect on two decades but also increase awareness that these services are available.

“We want to showcase that we’re here, of course, and often people don’t know that we’re here as that response to those reporting a sexual assault, domestic violence, abuse or human trafficking,” she said. “But the anniversary is also to showcase some of our accomplishments – things like the amount of people we’ve seen, that we’ve expanded our services and are now seeing children. And of course just also just to celebrate a milestone.”

To qualify to become a forensic nurse, one must have a nursing degree and be a registered nurse and then do additional training at a school like BCIT. That program sees applicants do 90 hours of classroom time and then spend time with experienced forensic nurses before receiving the certification.

Short said the ability to communicate is a key trait for a prospective forensic nurse.

“You’re talking to someone who has been traumatized so you have to have good communication skills and do your best to not make their scenario any worse,” she said. “You also need to be non-judgmental but also a good critical thinker.”

Short said her own journey into becoming a forensic nurse came after working in the emergency room for about 15 years. She said dealing with difficult cases, many involving the police, opened her eyes to alternative ways to deal with patients who have experienced trauma.

“In the ER I assisted with a couple of physicians doing some cases and they were just so different,” she said.

“One patient was very resistant to having anything done and, unfortunately at that time, we were pressured to get evidence from her and we kind of made her do something she didn’t really want to do and she was very unhappy about it.

“The next patient was totally fine and was OK with whatever and it turned out that person had abuse in her life before. Both of those instances impacted me quite a bit, and when the program began I wanted to get involved.”

Short added that she hopes Abbotsford residents are thankful to have the program so close to them.

“I think to have a specialized program like this in any community would be a benefit,” she said.

“It’s a big deal that we have the support of Fraser Health and our community services. We also don’t do this job on our own. We need the help of our victim services groups, housing advocates and counsellors – there’s more than just what we do.”

For more information on the program, visit fraserhealth.ca.

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