Crown prosecutor Winston Sayson remembers a witness with a new and relatively unknown job title of forensic nurse examiner taking to the stand to testify at a sexual assault case in Delta provincial court in the mid 1990s. The defence lawyer famously objected to this witness being called, protesting, "She is just a nurse, she is no doctor." But the judge permitted her to testify.
Fast forward to 2015, and the courts expect forensic nurses to be there.
Sayson has been working alongside them ever since, repeatedly seeing their expertise affirmed. "The expert evidence they give in court assists the judges in their fact-finding role," he says.
Currently there are 20 forensic nurses working out of Surrey Memorial Hospital and another 12 in Abbotsford. Bridging the gap between the health and justice systems, they assist with continuity of evidence, preservation of specimens and help reduce re-victimization through their "one-stop" service of health care and forensic work.
"This is a pride of the Surrey Memorial Hospital," Sayson says.
"They offer great assistance to the court process. It is part of their training to come to court – it certainly aids in the investigation of sexual assault."
Lynn Gifford is the Forensic Nursing Service-Clinical Coordinator at SMH’s emergency department.
She began nursing 39 years ago and became a forensic nurse examiner in 2002. Along the way, she has learned that to be a good forensic nurse, you’ve got to have a compassionate heart, a strong gut, be a good listener, be intuitive, and be able to master your emotions.
"The older I’m getting at nursing, the more I believe that often that compassionate witness is as therapeutic as stitches or any other thing you can do," Gifford says. "When somebody’s describing their life to you, their grief and their sorrow and things that are hurting them, you’ve got to let that go in the direction they’re going in."
She and her fellow nurses help patients from age two to end-of-life.
"My last patient, less than a month ago, was a 96-year-old woman who was a victim of sex assault in her home."