Vital Record » Nursing Your source for health news from the Texas A&M Health Science Center Mon, 25 May 2015 13:00:16 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Baby blues or something more? Mon, 25 May 2015 13:00:16 +0000 Ever heard of baby blues? It’s not the color you’re painting the nursery. More than 70 percent of women show symptoms of unexplained tearfulness, feelings of being let down, and a decreased appetite after delivering a baby]]>

Ever heard of baby blues? It’s not the color you’re painting the nursery. More than 70 percent of women show symptoms of unexplained tearfulness, feelings of being let down, and a decreased appetite after delivering a baby.

Protect you and your baby by knowing the difference between baby blues and postpartum depression.

Protect you and your baby by knowing the difference between baby blues and postpartum depression.

“Women have a much higher chance of being admitted to a psychiatric ward after giving birth than any other time in life,” says Cody Bruce, M.S.N., RN, assistant professor at the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Nursing in Round Rock.

With several years of professional experience in a clinical psychiatric ward, Bruce has witnessed these symptoms first hand. He has often seen patients experiencing baby blues and in various stages of postpartum depression, and explains several differences between the two.

“Baby blues symptoms typically only last one to two weeks after pregnancy,” says Bruce. “Postpartum depression is different, because women are at risk for up to 12 months after birth.”

Bruce notes these ways to help new moms push through baby blues and return to normalcy:

1. Offer a support system 

Women can feel overwhelmed with the sudden lifestyle changes that encompass motherhood. Simple household tasks can feel more taxing than they previously did. During this period, family members and friends can step in to help complete the housework so the mother can have time to adjust.

“It’s not that these women don’t love their baby,” mentions Bruce. “This new lifestyle just overwhelms them, which is why they really need their family members and friends during this time.”

2. Encourage rest

Many women encounter a wide range of emotions after delivering a baby. Their bodies have experienced a number of hormonal changes over the past several months, which can cause exhaustion over time. Once the excitement and nerves have gone away, their bodies are often begging for more sleep.

3. Keep visitors to a minimum

While many people may be excited to see the baby, it’s important to let the mother and child not only bond, but rest. The shuffling of visitors can cause mothers to feel like they are constantly “on.” Space out visits with family and friends so mother and child don’t feel too overwhelmed right after delivery.

4. Watch for signs of postpartum depression

Both women and their families should observe if tearfulness, feelings of being overwhelmed, or a variety of other symptoms  last longer than two weeks after giving birth.

Some of the first signs of postpartum depression include having thoughts of harming yourself or the baby. If you notice these signs, it is important to seek medical attention as soon as possible. If left untreated, it could leave both the mother and child in a highly dangerous situation.

“In the end, it’s important to give the mom as much love and support as possible—for the benefit of both herself and the baby,” says Bruce.

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A beginner’s guide to working out Tue, 05 May 2015 14:56:56 +0000 Physical activity is important and can bring with it a plethora of health benefits. However, for people who are just getting into the habit of regular exercise, it can be difficult to determine where to begin. There are a few tactics and tips people can use to help them fit activity into their day and make it a regular occurrence. ]]>
Woman and man sitting together on a sidewalk and stretching their hamstrings.

Regular exercise has a myriad of health benefits, but for beginners it’s hard to know how to get started.

Maybe it’s for a health reason or maybe you want to look your best for a specific occasion—whatever the catalyst, you’ve decided to become more physically active. If that’s the case, then you’ve already made the first important step towards reaping the benefits of regular activity. However, we all know that deciding to work out isn’t enough to achieve our personal goals; and the truth of the matter is that figuring out where to get started can be difficult, especially if you’ve never bought a pair of sneakers, let alone been to a gym.

“If you’ve never been particularly physically active, it can be difficult to find where to begin,” said Shelley White-Corey, clinical assistant professor with the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Nursing and experienced personal trainer and certified group exercise and yoga instructor.

For those individuals focused on boosting their physical activity, White-Cory offers a few tips to keep in mind:

1. Start small and build slowly

One of the most common misconceptions about exercise is that it involves long hours at the gym or sprinting at a neck-breaking speed, but this is not the case. Most of the health benefits from activity can come with moderate-intensity exercise such as walking, swimming or even doing household chores like cleaning.

“When people are just starting to work out, or are deconditioned, they should take it slow,” White-Corey encouraged. “Start with something small like a walk around the block or whatever you can achieve right now.”

If you’re just starting to get into the routine of exercising a few times a week, there’s no need to push yourself. The Surgeon General recommends that adults engage in 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity per week. However, White-Corey suggests that deconditioned individuals, who find that number daunting, start with shorter time periods and work their way up to the weekly recommendations.

Keep in mind that you do not have to achieve your weekly goal in one session, or even five 30-minute workouts. Fitting in physical activity can be as simple as taking the stairs instead of the elevator or parking further away from your destination. Try breaking up your workouts into shorter durations, such as three, 10-minute periods a day, or whatever you can achieve with your schedule.

There are three components to increasing fitness: frequency, duration and intensity. White-Corey advises that beginners start with increasing their frequency first, then work on their duration, before they focus on the intensity of their workouts. This is the best way to avoid injury when you’re beginning to introduce activity into your lifestyle and striving to keep it consistent. It’s easy to lose motivation if you experience injury, or do too much, too quickly and then feel too sore to continue.

No matter what activity you chose to pick up, it’s important to consult your health care provider before jumping into it. They may recommend modifications to certain exercises or activities and can advise you on how to avoid injury.

2. Think positive

Some days, it can be difficult to motivate yourself to go for a walk or catch that exercise class, especially if you don’t think you can complete it.

“It’s easy to undermine yourself before you even get started,” White-Corey said. “Maintaining a positive outlook can help you stay in the habit of regular exercise, and to improve your conditioning.”

On days that you doubt your ability to complete a workout, ask yourself if you’re feeling physical or mental exhaustion. If you find yourself thinking, “I can’t do it,” but your body feels fine otherwise, White-Corey suggests coming up with a positive mantra to push those undermining thoughts aside, such as “I am strong, powerful, and capable of great athletic feats.” Once that pessimistic barrier is removed, you might find yourself feeling accomplished or even setting a new personal record.

3. Find your motivation

Getting started can be the most challenging aspect of exercising. Whether your goal is to lose weight, look better or something more specific to your life, it’s important to find your motivation. You can’t expect to make physical activity a habit, if you don’t have a drive to keep with it.

If setting goals motivates you, White-Corey advises starting with something measurable and realistic. For example, if you are trying to increase the amount of weight you lift, keep a specific number in mind and give yourself an appropriate amount of time to achieve that level. Even training for an event can help you increase your fitness and keep you motivated, just remember to take the necessary amount of time to adequately prepare before the event occurs.

4. Have fun

Who wants to spend 150 minutes a week doing something they strongly dislike? No one. If you despise the idea of running, there’s no reason to force yourself to run a marathon.

When you’re first adopting an activity, choose something you enjoy.

Grab a friend or your dog for an afternoon walk, dance around your house, play with your child at a playground, join a community sports team or whatever makes you happy. If you like your workouts, you will be more likely to make them a habit and accomplish whatever goals you have set for yourself.

5. Pay attention to form

While consistent exercise comes with a myriad of health benefits, it can also lead to injury if you don’t pay attention to proper form. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 11,000 people receive treatment from U.S. emergency departments each day for sports, recreation and exercise-related injuries. Always be sure to implement the proper form and techniques during physical activity. For those who adopt weight training, be sure to pay attention to your form and consider consulting a professional, such as a personal trainer, for a few sessions; it may be a little costly, but an injury can sideline you and cost you more in the long run.

For first-time runners, be sure to increase the duration and pace slowly. Rapidly increasing your speed, or running for too long can lead to injuries such as shin splits, which will put you out of commission for a while.

If you do find yourself injured, follow doctor’s orders and don’t force yourself to continue exercising. Pushing yourself when you’re injured can exacerbate your injury and possibly cause more permanent damage. Take the time you need to rest and heal, before resuming any activity that exerts your injury.

6. Stick with it

Don’t be discouraged if you don’t see the results of regular activity immediately. “Most of the benefits from being physically active take about three weeks to be seen or felt,” White-Corey said.

Whatever activity you decide to adopt, consistency is key. Within a few short weeks you will start to see and feel all of your hard work paying off, and once you notice your improvements you will likely find the motivation to stick with it. As you accomplish your goals, look for new ways to challenge yourself and keep your activity entertaining.

With these tips in mind, you’ll be able to discover the right activity for you, along with the motivation to turn your newfound hobby into a lifetime habit. So go ahead and roll out that yoga mat or throw on a pair of sneakers and start to reap the benefits of your hard work.

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The ultimate guide to contraceptives Thu, 30 Apr 2015 15:46:09 +0000 Choosing a contraceptive that’s right for you can be difficult. With more than 10 to choose from it can be a daunting task trying to understand how age, lifestyle and personal preferences should or could play into your decision. This guide explores a variety of available options and ultimately helps you determine which contraceptive is right for you and your body]]>


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Pediatric nurses: On the front lines in dealing with child abuse Tue, 28 Apr 2015 13:00:51 +0000 With 65,000 reports of child abuse filed last year in Texas alone it's no wonder pediatric nurses are regularly confronted with cases of child abuse, either in the form of physical abuse, or neglect. New comprehensive program aims to provide future nurses with the specialized training needed to recognize the signs and symptoms]]>
Sad child, alone on the playground.

A major goal of forensic nurses is to provide care for children in a timely manner, in a child-friendly atmosphere

In 2014, more than 65,000 reports of child abuse were filed with Texas Child Protective Services (CPS).

This comes as no surprise to Kathryn Sanders, a clinical assistant professor of nursing at the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Nursing.

From the day she started working as a pediatric nurse 20 years ago, Sanders says she was regularly confronted with cases of child abuse, either in the form of physical abuse, or neglect, which can include not providing children with the food or medications they need.

“One of the worst cases I ever saw was an infant who had been crawling on the floor and put something in his mouth,” Sanders recalls. “It turned out to be his mother’s crack cocaine.”

Whether they are working in hospital emergency rooms or serving as school nurses, nurses are often on the front lines of dealing with child abuse. Sanders has filed reports with CPS, talked to investigators during the course of their investigations, and even testified in court when charges were brought against the parents.

Part of Sanders’ job now as a faculty member at the Texas A&M College of Nursing is to train future nurses how to recognize the signs and symptoms of child abuse, which can often be very subtle. Clues that there might be abuse going on include children who regularly have headaches or stomach aches caused by stress, children who display bruises in uncommon sites and children who become more withdrawn when a certain person comes into the room.

“Early identification is where nurses can really make a difference and hopefully get some early interventions to the family,” Sanders says.

But Sanders says nurses who deal with child abuse on a daily basis – such as those who work in pediatric hospitals – should have additional training on top of what they receive during their pediatric rotation in nursing school.

“These nurses really need a lot more understanding of the forensic side of child abuse,” she says.

That’s why the Texas A&M College of Nursing is pursuing plans to develop a comprehensive forensic nursing program for the state. Forensic nurses have specialized training in providing a medical forensic examination and documenting injuries such as those related to child abuse, elder abuse, sexual abuse and domestic violence. They also learn how to interview victims of abuse and provide testimony in court.

“Forensic nurses are much more adept at interviewing children and parents in a way that is going to assist in planning care and providing better evidence,” Sanders says.

Sanders says there are not enough forensic nurses to help with child abuse cases in Texas, especially in the rapidly growing Central Texas area. She regularly leads nursing students from the Texas A&M Health Science Center Round Rock campus through clinical experiences at hospitals in Austin, where they may see victims of sexual assault, for example, having to wait in an emergency room for several hours before a sexual assault nurse examiner is available. A major goal of forensic nurses is to provide care for children in a timely manner, in a child-friendly atmosphere.

Sanders says having more forensic nurses would also serve as a valuable resource for other nurses.

“We give our students a basic understanding of child abuse, but if you are in a situation where you are confronted with it, you need to have a good resource and a good support person,” she says.

But in the end, it is all about making sure that children who have been abused get the help they need.

“Forensic nurses can deal with the forensic aspect of a case while the other nurses step back and take care of the child,” Sanders says.

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Health Science Center offers new programs to increase the diversity of the health care workforce in Texas Wed, 08 Apr 2015 13:24:02 +0000 College of Medicine and College of Nursing start new programs with the help of grants from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board]]>

Having a more diverse health care workforce isn’t just a lofty goal. Numerous studies – including one by the Institute of Medicine – have documented that patients from minority communities do better when they are treated by health care professionals with similar backgrounds.

photo of minority student

The Texas A&M College of Medicine and College of Nursing have both started new programs designed to increase the number of students from underrepresented communities who apply to medical and nursing school.

That is why the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Medicine and College of Nursing have both started new programs they hope will help increase the diversity of the health care workforce in Texas. Both programs have been funded by grants from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB).

The College of Medicine has started a three-part program it calls the Aggie Doctor Initiative. This initiative is designed to help prospective medical students at key stages in their academic careers: their first year of college, the medical school application process, and their first year of medical school.

The initiative launched last fall with the selection of 25 first-year undergraduate students at Texas A&M University who are participating in an existing program called the FOCUS Learning Community, which is designed to help support low-income students or those who are the first in their families to attend college.

Each of these students was paired with a current Texas A&M medical student who has a similar background. In the fall, the students all took the same chemistry class as well as a common seminar class to help them prepare for exams. The program has also made science tutors and supplemental instruction available for those who want them.

“First-year undergraduate students on a pre-med track face a schedule packed with classes such as chemistry, biology and statistics,” said David McIntosh, assistant dean for diversity at the College of Medicine and director of the Aggie Doctor Initiative. “We lose so many students in that first year.”

After just one semester, McIntosh said the benefits were clear as the program’s inaugural students performed much better in their first semester than pre-med students have done in the past.

“We even had two students earn a 4.0 grade point average,” he said, also noting that the group of students has formed a unique bond, which should provide support as they continue their undergraduate education.

This spring, McIntosh began offering some medically relevant experiences for the undergraduates, such as a suture clinic taught by medical school students. Participants also are shadowing physicians at Health for All, a nonprofit medical clinic in Bryan, and have had the opportunity to work with Mark Sicilio, M.D., a practicing pediatrician and the interim chair of the Humanities Department in the Texas A&M College of Medicine.

“We hope some of these students will attend the Texas A&M College of Medicine, but we will be happy to see them attend any medical school,” McIntosh said. “Some of them will be highly sought after.”

While the first year of college is a pivotal time for all students, sophomores and juniors interested in entering into medicine can still benefit from the Aggie Doctor Initiative through a program called Pre-Med Fellows, which accepted its first 10 participants last fall.

The Pre-Med Fellows program also provides mentoring, as well as an MCAT prep course, a seminar on preparing medical school applications, and the opportunity to sit in on some classes at the College of Medicine. Students who complete the Pre-Med Fellows program and earn a score of 27 on the MCAT will be guaranteed admission into the Texas A&M College of Medicine.

Finally, for students entering their first year of medical school, the initiative is launching MedCamp, which will welcome its first 25 participants this summer. These participants will be selected from among applicants who have expressed an interest in remediating healthcare disparities in Texas. These students will have the opportunity to arrive on campus a month early so they can participate in a variety of social and academic activities designed to acclimatize them to life as a medical student.

“In medical school, students have tests every two weeks that cover about as much material as they would have had in a whole semester as undergraduates,” McIntosh said. “Even students who have been high-achieving their entire lives sometimes hit a bump in the road when they get here.”

Students participating in MedCamp will be connected with four mentors to help them as they start medical school – a staff mentor, a clinical faculty mentor, a science faculty member and a mentor who is a second-year medical student.

The College of Medicine received funding from the THECB to run the Aggie Doctor Initiative for two years. After that, McIntosh hopes to secure additional funds to keep the program going and make it available to even more students.

The College of Nursing is using the grant it received from the THECB to develop a program to recruit and retain more nurses from South Texas, specifically Hidalgo County, which is the poorest county in the United States. The goal of the program is to expand the Hispanic nurse workforce, since this is the most underrepresented racial/ethnic group among the registered nurses, with only about 6 percent nationwide.

The college is partnering with South Texas College, the South Texas Health System and the McAllen Independent School District to identify potential candidates beginning as early as middle school who have an interest in the field of nursing. The program, which will leverage the college’s presence at the Texas A&M Health Science Center McAllen campus, will include workshops to talk about careers in nursing and offer application assistance to prospective students.

Jodie Gary, Ph.D., an assistant professor of nursing who is directing the initiative, said the college hopes to double its enrollment of Hispanic students within the next two years. Gary thinks one program that might be particularly appealing to students in the area is the college’s R.N. to B.S.N. program that can be completed online.

“South Texas has fewer nurses with bachelor’s degrees than other parts of the state,” Gary said. “Studies have shown a positive correlation between level of education and patient outcomes, so this is something we can do that will really make an impact in that area.”

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Health Science Center announces 2015 Commencement ceremonies, speakers Tue, 07 Apr 2015 19:19:38 +0000 State and national healthcare leaders will address students graduating in medicine, nursing, public health, pharmacy and dentistry]]>

The Texas A&M Health Science Center will host its 2015 commencement ceremonies in May at locations across the state.14335732762_d3357a9745_k

The first ceremony will take place on Friday, May 8, when the College of Nursing holds its commencement ceremony at 10 a.m. in Rudder Auditorium on the Texas A&M University campus in College Station. The featured speaker will be Janelle Shepard, B.S.N., M.B.A., senior director of care transitions for the Texas Health Alliance and a member of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

Commencement ceremonies for the College of Medicine and the School of Public Health will be held in Rudder Auditorium on Saturday, May 9. The ceremony for School of Public Health graduates will begin at 9 a.m. and will feature James F. Sallis, Ph.D., distinguished professor of family medicine and public health at the University of California, San Diego and director of Active Living Research, a national program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Sallis is one of the world’s most cited authors in the social sciences, and has been featured in Time magazine as one of the four most effective scientists currently working to address America’s obesity problem.

The ceremony for College of Medicine graduates will begin at 2 p.m. and will feature Geoffrey Ling, M.D., Ph.D., founding director of the Biological Technologies Office at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Ling has launched several well-publicized projects at DARPA, including the Revolutionizing Prosthetics program, which is trying to develop a robotic human arm, and the PREVENT program, which focuses on blast-induced traumatic brain injury (TBI). Prior to joining DARPA, Ling was an Army doctor and a professor of neurology at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences. He is considered to be the Army’s premier subject matter expert on TBI and was one of the doctors who treated U.S. Sen. Gabrielle Giffords after she was shot in 2011.

Thomas Menighan, Sc.D., MBA, executive vice president and CEO of the American Pharmacists Association, will be the featured speaker at the Irma Lerma Rangel College of Pharmacy’s commencement ceremony, which will be held on Saturday, May 23, at 2 p.m. in the Steinke Physical Education Center in Kingsville. Menighan has founded several pharmacy-related companies, including SynTegra Solutions Inc., SymRx Inc., and©.

Maxine Fienberg, D.D.S., president of the American Dental Association, will be the featured speaker at the commencement ceremony for the Texas A&M Baylor College of Dentistry, which will be held on Wednesday, May 27, at 7:30 p.m. at the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center in Dallas.

Admission to all commencement ceremonies is free and does not require a ticket. For additional information, visit the Texas A&M University commencement website.

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The pressure is on: Disaster Day teaches students how to work together in an emergency Mon, 30 Mar 2015 19:57:02 +0000 More than 400 students from colleges throughout the Texas A&M Health Science Center and Blinn College participated in the 2015 edition of Disaster Day, an annual exercise designed to give future health care professionals experience working together in an emergency]]>

A rapidly moving wildfire had been making its way toward Bryan/College Station and finally hit around 2 a.m. It came from the south and engulfed two out of the three hospitals in the area. To make matters worse, winds sparked a fire in a gas tanker that was filling up a local gas station, causing a massive explosion that struck unsuspecting students standing outside a nearby high school.

Fortunately, at a local church, a team of about 200 medical professionals is standing by to help.


More than 400 future health care professionals participated in the 2015 Disaster Day.

This was the scenario as students from colleges throughout the Texas A&M Health Science Center prepared to take part in the 2015 edition of Disaster Day, an annual exercise designed to give future health care professionals experience working together in an emergency. The event – which is one of the largest disaster simulations in the country – is planned and executed by students in the Texas A&M College of Nursing, with guidance from faculty members. The scenario was replayed in both the morning and afternoon to give as many students as possible the opportunity to participate.

In all, more than 400 future health care professionals participated in the event this year, including students from the Texas A&M College of Medicine, College of Nursing, School of Public Health and Irma Lerma Rangel College of Pharmacy, as well as nursing and radiology students from Blinn College. Approximately 700 community volunteers also participated, including about 200 high school students from Bryan and College Station.

The students gathered at Central Baptist Church in College Station, which in real life has been designated as an emergency relief center for Brazos County in the event of an emergency. Inside the church’s auxiliary building, rows of cots were neatly arranged in lettered rows and a pharmacy station was set up in the middle.

At the beginning of the exercise, the students all lined up against the walls to hear the scenario. Then they divided into teams and went to work treating volunteers who served as patients, all of whom were realistically made up to appear injured. Some patients were so convincing it was hard to tell it was just an exercise.

In Pod 1, first-year nursing student Micah Rimmer was part of a team that headed first to attend to a middle-aged woman who was having trouble breathing. Rimmer checked her pulse, while other members of the team took the woman’s blood pressure and temperature and checked her heart. The team administered oxygen to the woman and asked if there was anyone they could call for her.

On the next bed, a woman was lying down and holding her head as she screamed in pain. Her face was covered in soot. The team decided to order an EKG and gave her some Tylenol to help with the pain.

Suddenly, over in Pod 3 came a cry of “Code Blue,” one of five life-or-death cases the team working in that area had to deal with right off the bat, in addition to a woman giving birth. Despite performing CPR on the patient for 15 minutes, they lost him.

“He had intestinal bleeding and needed surgery, which we couldn’t provide,” explained Laurelyn Kramer, a senior nursing student who was taking part in her second Disaster Day exercise.

After administering CPR to the bleeding patient, Kramer’s team turned its attention to a firefighter who had come in with burns on his arm and was dizzy and weak. His blood pressure was low and his eyes had black circles under them from lack of sleep. The team also put him on oxygen and gave him some Tylenol.

On the next row over, a young girl was sitting on a cot with a fractured ankle. Kramer put her ankle in a splint and told the girl to go home, elevate the leg, and put ice on it. She told the girl she will need to go get a cast on the ankle in a few days once the crisis has passed. Kramer found some crutches for the girl and made sure she knew how to use them before she was discharged.

No sooner had the girl hobbled away on crutches than a woman with a burned hand walked in crying and in a panic because her friend was missing. A nursing student poured alcohol onto a gauze bandage and wrapped the hand, while another student went to try and find the woman’s friend.

The exercise went on for an hour and a half, during which each team had the opportunity to treat at least three patients. By the end of the exercise, trashcans scattered around the room were overflowing with gloves, used paper sheets and bandage packaging.

“This was a great experience,” said Micah Rimmer, the first-year nursing student who was working in Pod 1. Rimmer admitted to being anxious at the beginning of the exercise, but said it should help him when he gets to his coursework on acute care.

“No one died in our pod, so I couldn’t have done too badly,” he said.

Francis Onyebuchi, a third-year medical student who worked in Pod 3, said the exercise showed him how mentally prepared medical professionals need to be to work in such a crisis situation. “I was so stressed it was hard to think,” he said.

Onyebuchi said the exercise helped him learn the importance of communication and teamwork.

“Team management is what keeps patients alive,” he said.


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From emergency room to courtroom: Meeting the need for forensic nurses in Texas Thu, 05 Feb 2015 17:59:51 +0000 As first responders to victims of interpersonal violence, including sexual abuse, domestic violence and child and elder abuse, forensic nurses provide specialized care and consolation, collect and preserve evidence and give testimony that can be used in a court of law to convict perpetrators. Ultimately, forensic nurses bridge the gap between medicine and the administration of justice. But despite their important role and the high rates of rape and domestic violence in Texas, there is a shortage of forensic nurses]]>
woman with a black eye crying

In Texas, the bridge between health care and the criminal justice system is being built by nurses.

“I’ll go, if you go.”

And just like that, five words forever changed Trisha Sheridan’s mission in life. Sheridan, clinical assistant professor at the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Nursing and one of the few practicing certified forensic nurses in the Brazos Valley, started her nursing career working as a women’s health nurse practitioner in a small clinic in Washington. The patient that uttered those five simple, yet life-changing, words was a victim of rape and asked that Sheridan accompany her to the hospital for a medical examination.

“I can still vividly remember arriving to the emergency room with the patient to find that there was no forensic nurse on staff; and while there was a nurse who had been trained to collect a ‘rape kit,’ she had not been trained to do the pelvic exam,” Sheridan said. “I was horrified. It was then that I realized that my true calling in life was to make a difference in the lives of such victims of abuse.”

Now Sheridan and others at the Texas A&M College of Nursing are looking to change the lives of countless patients and future nurses through a first-of-its kind Department of Forensic Nursing in Texas. As first responders to victims of interpersonal violence, including sexual abuse, domestic violence and child and elder abuse, forensic nurses provide specialized care and consolation, collect and preserve evidence and give testimony that can be used in a court of law to convict perpetrators. Ultimately, forensic nurses bridge the gap between medicine and the administration of justice.

Unfortunately, as Sheridan learned all too well, there are simply not enough forensic nurses to address patient needs when, for example, Texas has some of the highest rates of child abuse and sexual assault in the country. In fact, statewide statistics in the areas directly impacted by forensic nurses are absolutely staggering:

  • One rape is committed each hour in Texas with over 8,000 per year reported.  The reported rate was 35.3 sexual assaults for every 100,000 Texans with an underreported rate of 50 percent.
  • Each year more than 65,000 cases of child abuse are confirmed in Texas. The state’s proximity to the border also increases its rate of victims of sex trafficking.

That’s why Texas A&M Health Science Center is seeking state support to advance efforts that would bring more forensic nurses to Texas. The college’s long-term vision includes providing specialized training of nurses on sexual assault, domestic violence, child abuse and neglect, elder mistreatment, death investigation, corrections, and nursing in the aftermath of mass disasters.

The college currently offers an online forensic nursing course, but plans to expand its offerings to include a post-baccalaureate certification in forensic nursing, as well as continuing education to help S.A.N.E. nurses keep their certification. Additionally, the college plans to add a unique master’s degree that would focus on four areas of study: sexual assault, domestic violence, child abuse and neglect, and elder mistreatment.

“Nurses may offer the only opportunity some victims have to escape violent situations,” said Nora Montalvo-Liendo, an assistant professor who will lead the domestic violence component of the new degree program. “By educating our students, we are equipping communities with health care professionals prepared to not only to recognize signs of violence, but help victims seek help in meaningful, effective ways.”

Currently, no such program exists in Texas and there are only about a dozen such programs in the country.

“Forensic nursing is a powerful resource for anti-violence efforts,” said Sharon Wilkerson, Ph.D., RN, CNE, ANEF, dean of the Texas A&M College of Nursing. “Not only are we seeking to educate our students about data collection and preservation of evidence, we want to prepare nurses to treat the physical and mental trauma associated with victims of violence, and communicate their experiences as expert medical witnesses. There are simply not enough forensic nurses in this state, and we want to change that.”

As part of its 2016-2017 appropriations request to the Texas Legislature, the health science center is requesting funding to develop a comprehensive statewide initiative that – in addition to advancing forensic nursing degree offerings – would drive a continuing education program for all Emergency Department nurses as mandated by Texas law. Additionally, the initiative would include a program to work with community partners, such as law enforcement, educators, medical professionals, and advocates, to recognize at-risk populations and provide educational opportunities to stop the cycle of violence. The requested appropriations would support training programs, outreach to remote locations, web-based training modules, specialized diagnostic equipment, and support personnel to advance the initiative.

Creation of a statewide forensic nursing department is of particular interest to Texas A&M Health Science Center Chief Executive Officer Brett P. Giroir, M.D., who began his career as a pediatric critical care specialist, and frequently treated cases of severe child abuse that often led to permanent disability or even death.

“Emergency rooms and pediatric intensive care units across the country treat a staggering number of young abuse victims,” Giroir said. “As physicians, our primary focus must be stabilizing the patient, but we are all keenly aware that the damage done is not limited to physical issues. The nurses on our health care team serve as an invaluable resource to these patients, their loved ones, and officials investigating the case by offering unparalleled care, support, guidance, and information from the moment the patient arrived until the case is resolved.”

While a comprehensive department of forensic nursing is the end goal, Sheridan and Giroir’s experiences confirm the urgent need for additional forensic nurses on the frontlines. Therefore, faculty members in the College of Nursing have already started developing curriculum for the new academic programs to present to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board.

“One of the tenants of Texas A&M Health Science Center is to train the highest quality, most compassionate health care providers in the nation, who in addition are leaders within their professions,” Giroir said. “I couldn’t think of a more appropriate description for future graduates of these forensic nurse programs – compassionate leaders.”

Wilkerson said the college’s goal in this area is simple, yet profound: to provide compassionate patient-centered care and give law enforcement accurate information to pursue perpetrators.

“It is this crossroads of health and justice where forensic nurses can make a difference,” Wilkerson said. “We want to equip the state with advocates against violence and agents of care – that’s an invaluable resource for all Texans.”

Find out what forensic nursing is all about in this short Q&A.

View our infographic about the forensic nursing profession.

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Planning Disaster Day gives students a chance to learn valuable leadership skills Fri, 16 Jan 2015 14:03:52 +0000 Disaster Day prepares students for a challenge they may encounter during their health careers, teaching them how to handle a high volume of patients and communicate effectively in a high-stakes environment

Disaster Day prepares students for a challenge they may encounter during their health careers, teaching them how to handle a high volume of patients and communicate effectively in a high-stakes environment.

Organizing an event with 800 participants is a monumental fete. But it’s even more of a fete for seniors in the Texas A&M Health Science Center College of Nursing who are balancing lectures, exams and clinical hours, all while planning Disaster Day, one of the largest disaster simulations in the country.

Now in its eighth year, Disaster Day is a completely student-run and organized event. The College of Nursing created the event to help students gain hands-on experience responding to a mass casualty disaster. Each year, a new scenario is chosen to enable students to test their emergency response skills outside the classroom. The scenario is kept secret until the day of the event in order to provide a more realistic simulation. The 2015 Disaster Day has been set for March 26.

With 300 students from across the Texas A&M Health Science Center and Blinn College, and more than 500 patient volunteers, Disaster Day is an enormous undertaking from start to finish and an invaluable learning experience for the future health care providers of Texas. The interdisciplinary nature of the event provides TAMHSC and Blinn students the opportunity to practice working together across medical specialties to develop appropriate role expectations, respect and teamwork.

“In a leadership role, you can’t be nervous about giving out ideas or delegating roles to others, which is something that you need to be able to do to be an effective nurse on the floor,” said Elizabeth Kniffin, co-chair of the Disaster Day Volunteer Committee. “It is also great for teaching time management, since we are leading and organizing Disaster Day on top of our studies and our clinical schedules.” Kniffin is a traditional Bachelor of Science senior and will graduate in May.

Students at the Texas A&M College of Nursing work together every year with students from the Texas A&M colleges of medicine, veterinary medicine and pharmacy, as well as Blinn College’s nursing, radiology and EMS students, to create and manage this enormous event. Five committees do the bulk of the organizing and preparation: Fundraising, Supplies, Case Studies, Volunteer, and Moulage, which is the art of applying mock injuries for training purposes. Each committee is led by a student chair or two co-chairs who each apply for the leadership positions. Incident commanders, appointed by College of Nursing faculty, help run the actual simulation.

Disaster Day is in late March of every year, but planning begins in the fall semester. Now in January, with less than three months until the big day, there is still a great deal of work left to be done.

“I have learned that there is a lot more that goes into the planning of Disaster Day than I ever imagined,” Kniffin said. “The success of Disaster Day is not based on just a few people, but many different disciplines, faculty members and students. Even though it is student run, we could not even think about having a functional Disaster Day without the support we get from our faculty and all the other disciplines.”

The hands-on approach of Disaster Day offers students of all medical disciplines the ultimate in simulation experiences as a means of honing their emergency management, clinical and interpersonal skills.

“I wholeheartedly believe that everyone who attends Disaster Day leaves a better person and a better professional,” said Halye Vessell, a senior Bachelor of Science major who is co-chair for the Volunteer Committee. “It enhances nurses in a way that makes them more confident in their skills and teaches them the value of working on a team. Additionally, they finally get to see everything we have learned in action! It is an unbeatable feeling.”

The entire Disaster Day runs on donations from the community and event collaborators, and as the event increases in size and scope, the fundraising efforts for Disaster Day must also increase.

“We are working very hard to get money for this event,” said Gayle Kuizon, a senior who is co-chair of the Fundraising Committee. “It means the world to us for people to give us support – whether that’s one cent or a hundred dollars, we appreciate everything. It gives our committee an additional set of professional skills to collaborate with community members and businesses to make both Disaster Day and our futures successful.”

Senior Alexis Cooper is one of five incident commanders who oversee the planning and production of Disaster Day. For her, it’s all about time management.

“I’ve learned a lot about management of time, people and organizations,” Cooper said. “It is actually very hard when you have multiple people working on multiple projects, along with managing your own classes, studies and clinicals. There is a lot of decision making, communication and record keeping that we must manage. I don’t think we would get this experience any other way.”

Disaster Day is a crucial learning experience for all its participants, but perhaps its student leaders get the most education. All the incident commanders and committee chairs emphasize a very serious, common thread to Disaster Day: teamwork.

“I’ve never been part of a team this size for such a monumental event, but we really are one big team,” Cooper said. “And what makes this team so special is that we come together to help each other out in the midst of completing our own tasks. With my fellow students and our faculty leaders I know that we will plan this Disaster Day successfully, together.”

Kuizon said Disaster Day pushed her to work with many different people to achieve one goal. “If you think about it, it’s what nurses do every day,” she said. “Their goal is to get their patients to their best level of health and to do that you work with physicians, technicians, physical therapists, speech therapists, etc. in order to attain that goal.”

Story written by Katie Hancock

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