Memorial’s Forensic Nurse Examiner Program is leader in field

Jan. 23, 2017

UCHealth Memorial Hospital’s internationally renowned Forensic Nurse Examiner program has been awarded an expanded renewal grant from the federal government to provide training for clinicians in rural Colorado to raise the standard of care for patients in small communities.

The U.S. Division of Criminal Justice awarded more than $200,000 to Memorial’s Forensic Nurse Examiners to provide statewide education, clinical training and technical assistance to forensic nursing programs in Colorado.

Memorial Hospital has one of the nation’s only full-time, comprehensive FNE programs, providing expert medical care to patients who encounter violence, including intimate partner violence, elder abuse, strangulation, sexual assault, child sexual assault, child abuse and neglect and human trafficking. So far this year, Memorial’s team has provided health care for more than 1,500 victims.

“We are here to provide health care and to take care of long- and short-term health consequences,’’ said Megan Lechner, manager of the FNE program at Memorial. “While many clinicians are focused on the collection of evidence, and that is important, our first priority is to provide informed and educated health care for patients.’’

As a national leader in caring for victims of intimate partner violence, Memorial’s FNEs also provide training for nurses, nurse practitioners and physician assistants who want to learn more about how to care for patients who have been assaulted.

In 2017, Memorial will offer 64 hours of online didactic sexual assault education; 24 hours of online didactic advanced forensic nurse examiner education; expanded opportunities for two days of hands-on learning in a clinical skills laboratory; and three days of on-the-job training in a preceptorship program for Colorado SANE-trained RNs affiliated with a SANE program in Colorado.  The grant allows Memorial to offer the training for free when, in the past, students had to pay for it. The grant expansion also allows for additional clinical experiences, which are vital to new and rural programs.

“The point of the grant is to reach rural communities and to have education that is easily accessible to them at no expense,’’ said Shamaree Ramirez, the project coordinator.

In 2013, the Division of Criminal Justice made its first grant to Memorial to help educate nurses across the state. Since Memorial has an FNE at the hospital around-the-clock, the program is a go-to resource for clinicians to call for technical help via phone or email when they have a patient who has been assaulted.

Though sensational news stories about sexual assault on college campuses and military bases have made headlines recently, talking about sexual assault is still difficult in American culture – even for seasoned nurses. The training helps nurses understand how to have those conversations and gain clinical skills to examine patients.

“We have had nurses that have come through our program, and they’ve been nurses for 10 to 20 years, but they are uncomfortable about talking to patients about sexual assault – it’s a society thing,’’ Lechner said. “It is something nobody wants to talk about. Many nurses can talk all day long about your diet if you are a new diabetic … but when they have to talk about sexual assault, they feel like ‘I don’t know what to say to this person.’ ’’

Giving nurses a script and pointers on what to say, how to say it and what to expect – or not expect – is a relief, Lechner said.

The training gives nurses confidence to talk to patients about the short-term health consequences – the need to provide medications, including sexually transmitted disease prophylactics, HIV prophylactics and emergency birth control – and the long-term implications of sexual assault, which may be both physical and mental.

About the author

Erin Emery is editor of UCHealth Today, a hub for medical news, inspiring patient stories and tips for healthy living. Erin spent years as a reporter for The Denver Post, Colorado Springs Gazette and Colorado Springs Sun. She was part of a team of Denver Post reporters who won the 2000 Pulitzer Prize for breaking news reporting.

Erin joined UCHealth in 2008, and she is awed by the strength of patients and their stories.