An ‘unstoppable’ nurse is receiving national recognition for her dedication to patients and nurses in the field of forensic nursing. The Canadian Forensic Nurses Association has chosen Nanaimo’s Aimee Falkenberg to receive this year’s Visionary Award in recognition of her significant contribution to forensic nursing in Canada.
“Aimee Falkenberg is quite simply unstoppable,” wrote fellow Forensic Nurse Examiners Larena Dodd and Paula Turner in their nomination. “Aimee is a kind, committed, compassionate person who has made it her life’s work to bring down barriers faced by survivors of violence. “She understands the challenges of this field and makes herself available for all of the FNEs she supports, 24/7, should they need clinical support or just to debrief – her phone is never turned off,” they wrote. “Aimee is a visionary and exactly the change-agent this evolving field needs. Forensic nursing is so very lucky to have her.”
John-Marc Priest, Regional Manager of Island Health’s Trauma, Forensic Nursing and Injury and Violence Prevention Programs, agreed.
“Aimee has this great gift to see ahead and anticipate what is needed for the patients and the program,” said Priest. “While most would wish things could be better, Aimee will actively seek a solution right there and then, and works really hard to achieve it. She has a powerful drive to improve patient care done in a manner that is inspiring to her team.”
Falkenberg completed her forensic nursing training in 2008, when the speciality was in its infancy. Since then, in addition to caring for patients, she has participated in the development of education for health-care staff on human trafficking and became the lead instructor at BCIT of the first nationally-accredited forensic nursing course. Since 2016, when she took on the role of coordinating FNE services in the central Island, Falkenberg has worked to expand services to larger centres and rural and remote locations. This increased access to care has resulted in increased use of forensic nursing services across Vancouver Island, including 130% growth in the Central Island between 2015/16 and 2019/20.
Outside of expanding services and supporting new forensic nurse examiners, Falkenberg also supports community projects like patient comfort kits and public awareness campaigns about sexual assault and interpersonal violence.
Despite the challenge of working on call and often in distressing circumstances, Falkenberg said that working with the North and Central Island forensic nursing team has been extremely rewarding.
“This is a calling for me,” she said. “One of my reasons for doing this work is empowering others and encouraging others. To educate another nurse and support them in doing this important work has fulfilled me more than I could ever imagine,” said Falkenberg. “I am living my dream job, coordinator of a successful forensic nursing team, educator for new forensic nurses in this field and working alongside some of the greatest forensic nurses that I can truly call my dearest ‘bestest’ friends, advocates, mentors and confidantes.”
Falkenberg said she was moved by the recognition of her peers.
“To receive this Visionary Award is an honor I hold very dear to my heart,” she said. “The most important thing I am going to say is thank you kindly to my colleagues and to the membership for the incredible recognition .... and this is for our patients. It’s all for them."
About Island Health’s Forensic Nurse Examiner program:
Island Health’s specially-trained forensic nurses are on call and available to respond to most emergency departments and urgent care centres to provide specialized care and confidential support for anyone who has experienced sexual assault or domestic violence. They can also act as a bridge between the medical and legal systems. They see patients of all ages or genders up to seven days after an assault, and can provide the choice of three care options:
• Medical care only. A forensic exam is not performed and no police report is filed.
• Medical care and a forensic exam; this includes the documentation of physical injuries and forensic sample collection. The forensic samples are stored for one year so survivors have time to decide what they would like to do.
• Medical care and a forensic exam, where forensic samples are provided to RCMP immediately.
Forensic Nurse Examiners ensure survivors of violence are supported beyond the examination room. They work with health, social, and legal services, and can refer survivors to supports in the community.