Published on April 29, 2022

Volz Nurses at Court

Caring for Crime Victims Far Beyond the Bedside

Nursing was not always the path for Jessica Volz. Neither was forensic medicine, the specialty in which she has had international impact.

Her life’s work caring for crime victims began with relentless curiosity and a fateful stop into the nursing school office as a discontented college undergrad.

Jessica VolzJessica is now a nurse practitioner with a doctorate in nursing leadership, and her passion for her patients extends well beyond Adventist HealthCare Shady Grove Medical Center.

She joined the hospital in 2007 as an emergency room nurse, a challenging first assignment that she says took a while to love. Her patience and a mantra of “give it a year” opened her eyes to a unique patient population: victims of abuse and neglect.

Shady Grove is home to the Montgomery County’s only Forensic Medical Unit. Early in Jessica’s career, forensic nursing was largely procedural. Physical evidence was needed to prosecute abuse cases. Law enforcement tasked hospitals with collecting it.

“I started to see that patients really found value in the exam itself, regardless of whether or not they were able to or wanted to participate with law enforcement,” she said.

Soon, Jessica and her colleagues realized forensic nurses could provide more than just physical healing and medical testimony in court. She saw caregivers as a bridge to connect patients with resources to break patterns of abuse and neglect.

Increasing Need

Growing rates of domestic violence have expanded the specialty of forensic nursing. As director of Shady Grove’s Forensic Medical Unit, Jessica has taken its program from a couple of on-call nurses to a full-time team of eight. Every nurse is certified in specialized assault examinations. She and two other Shady Grove nurses contributed to a textbook on forensic nursing published this year. “We’ve really gone from a service that provided sexual assault exams to a unit of forensic nurses, “Jessica says. “And that evolution has been a mutual learning not just for us, but for our community partners as well.”

Those partners include law enforcement, prosecutors, child welfare services, the county’s Family Justice Center and nonprofits that assist victims. Jessica also serves on the county and state human trafficking task forces and on their teams addressing domestic violence. She is making Shady Grove’s forensic nursing program an international model, hosting colleagues from Brazil to help them launch a practice. In 2020, she was elected to the prestigious American Academy of Forensic Sciences, which this year is making nursing a subspecialty.

Most important to Jessica is making sure community members who need the unit’s services know reaching out can change their lives in positive ways.

“What has happened to bring somebody to us doesn’t define who they are, and it doesn’t have to define how the rest of their life goes. I think there’s a lot of hope that can come out of these situations,” she said. “I think that’s a big step forward, just giving people a place to start.”

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