PORTSMOUTH, Va. (NNS) -- The 2018 Virginia A. Lynch Pioneer Award in Forensic Nursing was awarded to Michelle Ortiz, the forensic healthcare coordinator and Sexual Assault Forensic Examiners (SAFE) Program manager at Naval Medical Center Portsmouth (NMCP). Ortiz received the award from the International Association of Forensic Nurses, Oct. 24.
This is the highest award the association bestows to honor an individual who has made exceptional contributions to the field of Forensic Nursing. These contributions may be made through clinical program development, scientific achievement, legislation changes, or educational activities, and has been awarded since 1995.
“It was quite an honor and quite unexpected,” Ortiz said. “I was nominated by someone who used to be in our program here. The association had more nominees this year than they’ve ever had before and mine was chosen as the superior nomination.”
Ortiz said she received the award due to her incorporation of hospital corpsmen into the SAFE Program at NMCP, her efforts to teach forensic nursing within NMCP and the Department of Defense (DoD), and the reputation she has helped build within NMCP’s SAFE Program as to the quality of forensic work by the exam team.
“We have built a reputation here of doing things well, partly because of my high standards for the examiners and the quality of work that is expected of them,” Ortiz said. “As a team, we are continually looking for new ways to apply this scope of practice to helping our patients and helping the command go forward in this practice.”
Ortiz saw the incorporation of hospital corpsmen in the exam room as a key to the success of the program.
“We were the first program in the DoD to do that, which I saw as a good retention tool and a wonderful way to support the providers,” Ortiz said. “Most programs have two licensed personnel in the room – either a doctor and a nurse or two nurses – and I thought that was unnecessary. Just as our corpsmen do a fantastic job supporting nurses on the wards, I thought they could support us in this work, too.”
Ortiz said they are from all clinical areas within the medical center and are on 12-hour watches for a week at a time. They help with evidence collection, evidence labeling and organizing evidence.
“With everyone’s interested in forensics these days, and as an additional way to ignite their love for health care, it’s a really smart way to do business,” Ortiz said. “Since we started, I have never been disappointed – the corpsmen have been amazing as they assist us in the room and stand call with us.”
Ortiz was also recognized for the amount of teaching that she has done, not only of the fleet providers before the military had a Sexual Assault Medical Forensic Examiner course, but also for helping nurses become nationally certified Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners – Adult/Adolescent (SANE-A®).
“We’ve had more nationally certified SANE-A®’s than any other program in the DoD,” Ortiz said. “Right now on my team of 11 examiners, seven are SANE-A® certified. It’s nice to have a mix of seasoned and new examiners because everyone has a different perspective to bring new things to the program – to learn from each other and learn together. The day I come to work and stop teaching something or learning something is the day I’ll retire. I don’t see that happening anytime soon because I absolutely love this work.”
Quality is another important aspect, because according to Ortiz, the quality of the work must be high because justice is on the other side.
“Both the accuser and the accused deserve justice,” Ortiz said. “Going into the exam room, there are expectations that the providers are going to do their best work. I can’t guarantee a conviction, and I never would say that, but I can guarantee that the patient will get the absolute best work we can do for them based on what is presented to us at the time of the exam.”
Ortiz said she fell in love with forensics in 2002 after reading a book. She then sought a way to combine her love of nursing with her love of forensics. The answer – forensic nursing. Ortiz completed a master’s program and began working in various areas in the civilian community and within the military to further her knowledge and to find her niche, which is adult sexual assault and strangulation.
Seeing the importance of her work within the local community, NMCP’s command leadership approved the initiation of the SAFE Program in 2011, which was then overseen by Ortiz.
“This is by far the best job I have ever had – I am meeting amazing people and we are doing amazing work,” Ortiz said. “Every time I go to trial, I learn something new to make our program stronger. It’s unusual to have someone who is an expert witness of my caliber who is still clinically active. I think that is what makes me valuable in a courtroom as an expert witness who can help the jury interpret the evidence that has been presented. It gives me relevancy on the stand and credibility with the jury. I take a lot of pride in that.”
For more news from Naval Medical Center Portsmouth, visit www.navy.mil/local/NMCP/.