Supporting New Forensic Nurse Examiners in Remote Communities

People living in remote North Island communities now have access to Forensic Nurse Examiner (FNE) services thanks to innovative thinking and the creative use of existing virtual care technology by Island Health’s Virtual Care and Forensic Nurse Examiner teams.  

“Forensic nurses provide essential care and treatment for survivors of sexual assault,” said Grace Lore, Parliamentary Secretary for Gender Equity. “This innovative strategy is critical to ensure we have the health care professionals we need and that survivors can access the care they need." 

New forensic nurses are required to complete a minimum of three forensic exams with an experienced FNE present. As every case is different, it often takes 15-20 examinations before a new FNE feels totally comfortable doing an exam on their own, says Aimee Falkenberg, Coordinator of the FNE program for Central and North Island.

“How can I support new forensic nurses working in a community that is five hours away from any experienced FNE?” Falkenberg asked herself. “How can we use modern technology available to us to make this happen?”

The answers to her questions came from Island Health’s Virtual Care team.

“We are continuously looking for innovative virtual care opportunities,” said Laura Prado, Regional Manager of Virtual Care.  “For the FNE mentorship program, we were able to make creative use of existing technology using our BC Virtual Visit app.”

A secure, web-based videoconferencing solution, the app can be used for clinician to clinician consults, patient and client appointments or family connections. To support FNEs in training, the Virtual Care team set up iPads at hospital sites in Port Hardy, Port McNeill, Campbell River, Nanaimo, Duncan, Tofino and Salt Spring Island. Headsets were also provided to 50 experienced FNEs who provide mentorship. Now, at the click of a button a FNE in training can initiate a video consult with an experienced forensic nurse to communicate and share knowledge during the patient exam.

“I am so excited to be able to extend our forensic nursing care to northern Vancouver Island communities,” said Falkenberg. “This will impact patient care and the judicial system as we will have exceptionally trained forensic nurses in more rural communities.”

While it isn’t good news that the demand for forensic nurses is increasing due to growing instances of sexual assault and domestic violence, it is positive news that these formidable weapons in the fight against crime are available 24 hours per day, 7 days a week in every Island Health emergency room, now including hospitals in remote locations.

Forensic nurses are registered nurses with specialized training who care for people who have experienced sexual assault or intimate partner violence. They play a vital role in both the healthcare and criminal justice systems by gathering forensic samples from the body that can be stored, and if necessary, used in court. 

If you or someone you know is a survivor of sexual assault or domestic violence, please go to your local Hospital Emergency Department or call the 24-hour Vancouver Island Crisis Line at 1-888-494-3888.

Click below to learn more about Island Health’s forensic nursing program and to watch the 4-part video series about forensic nursing: