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A Tireless Advocate for her Patients

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Laura Zabriskie

February 20, 2018
Laura Clary, BSN, RN, FNE-A/P, SANE-A, CFN, CPEN, has a job that most people can't imagine. The mother of two is manager of GBMC’s Sexual Assault Forensic Examination (SAFE) & Domestic Violence Program, which means she cares for patients on the worst day of their lives – the day they were raped, assaulted, or abused. She and her busy team of 17 forensic nurses and 5 victim advocates see more than 400 cases a year; they have dedicated themselves to caring for and re-empowering victims of sexual assault and domestic violence.

Laura always knew that she wanted to be a nurse, but she was also very interested in forensics. Unsure of how to combine the two, Laura started her career as an emergency nurse and later trained for pediatric emergency care. In 2010, she transferred to GBMC to join the SAFE program — it was the combination of nursing and forensics that she had been looking for. It can also be an incredibly stressful job. "We often see the worst thing that a person can do to another person," says Laura.

Despite the injuries she sees and the horrific accounts she hears from patients, Laura treats each person without judgement and makes it her mission to establish a rapport, no matter how long it takes. She meticulously performs physical exams on each patient, explains the process, answers questions, and collects evidence that law enforcement will use to prosecute her patient’s abuser. When her exam is finished, Laura ensures that each patient is given the opportunity to bathe and put on fresh clothes (at no cost) from a supply of donated toiletries and clothing. After the patient leaves, there is still work to do. Laura frequently testifies in her patients’ court cases, attends community outreach events, and works to fundraise for the SAFE program. She is a tireless advocate for her patients and prevention efforts.

When she moved into her management position, the SAFE program only treated patients ages thirteen and up, and it didn't have a forensic program for domestic violence cases. Laura realized two whole populations were being overlooked. She took it upon herself to change this and worked with GBMC’s leadership team to make it happen. Laura earned her certification in pediatric forensics while working full-time and raising her family, then trained to become an instructor on the subject. She has cross-trained her entire team and now the SAFE program can treat patients at any stage of life. Additionally, she broadened the program to include forensic nurses for victims of domestic violence.

When asked about the best part of her job, Laura says "getting a guilty verdict or a DNA hit feels great, but what is most rewarding is seeing the transformation that our patients go through from when they first come see us to when they leave. Getting a hug from them and hearing them say 'thank you' is what keeps me coming back every day."

She was named America's Most Amazing Nurse by Prevention magazine and The Doctors TV show in 2017. She was also honored as Baltimore County's 2018 Woman of the Year by the Baltimore County Commission for Women and was recently recognized by the Governor's Office of Crime Control & Prevention for her work.
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