March is designated as National Women’s History Month and we’re honoring the many talented women who work for the Camden County Prosecutor’s Office. Through the month, we’ll be highlighting various employees through a series of “The Women of CCPO” interviews to give a small glimpse into the important work they do.
Theresa McLaughlin – Sexual Assault Response Team (SART) and Forensic Nurse Examiner (FNE) Coordinator
Q: What does Women’s History Month mean to you?
Theresa Mclaughlin (TM): For so long, women were not given the proper recognition for their contributions to history and it’s a time to celebrate women’s accomplishments in all areas, because we are in all areas!
Q: What woman did you look up to as a young girl and who do you look up to now? Why?
TM: Karen Swiecicki and I have been good friends since the age of 7. Her mother, Shirley Swiecicki was like a second mother to me. She was a nurse and would talk to me and tell me stories and encourage me to pursue my passion. She would tell me not to limit myself and that I could be a doctor if I wanted. She was instrumental to me and truly helped me in picking a school and helped me apply to obtain a scholarship in nursing.
I would have to say my late mother-in-law, Marie McLaughlin, was my most influential woman in my adult life. She was truly one of the most beautiful women inside and out that I have ever met. She was always available to help her family, always had a positive attitude and I have never heard her utter a negative word about anyone. She detested gossip of any kind and taught me to be forever young by staying mentally engaged and being of service to others. In her 80’s, she got her first convertible and volunteered to deliverer meals on wheels to less fortunate people. She really was one of a kind and a great role model.
Q: How did you become a nurse?
TM: I was granted a scholarship to attend Helene Fuld School of Nursing right out of high school, but I left nursing school after one year to marry my husband and work full time for my parent’s company. For 12 years, I worked as an outside sale representative for the family business in one of the largest women owned casino vendors at the height of the Atlantic City Casino era. We supplied all the casinos with their various janitorial supplies and specialty items, for example, Frank Sinatra’s certain brand of bottled water, Mick Jagger’s work out equipment and amenities for the Miss America Competitions. It was fun, but I never gave up on my dream and attended Camden County College at night to get my prerequisites in science. I did return to Helene Fuld Nursing School at night 12 years later, when my youngest son was 8-weeks-old and our older son was 5. I babysat 5 boys during the day in my home to earn extra money and went to school at night, attending class and clinical rotations in the hospital. My husband and I passed the baton like in a relay race during the week and I studied during the weekend, but the payoff was worth it, when I graduated Magna Cum Lauda in 1995. I worked for 11 years in the cardiac unit of Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital and 4 years at Cooper Hospital on the cardiac and trauma step down units.
Q: Did you always have an interest in becoming a Forensic Nurse, or how did that happen?
TM: The science of DNA has always fascinated me, and I saw an article in a journal about forensic nursing and how it was one of the fastest growing areas of forensic nursing, I became hooked. After 9/11, I wanted to do more and I took the sexual assault nurse examiner training at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing. I was lucky to be taught by Dr. Ann Wolbert Burgess, who is an internationally recognized pioneer in the assessment and treatment of victims of abuse and trauma. She was also instrumental in helping develop the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit. The female doctor in the Netflix series Mindhunter is based on her. I became an independent contracted forensic nurse examiner with Camden County Prosecutor’s office in November 2001, while still working full time at the hospital. In 2008, I received my pediatric forensic training given by Monmouth University.
Q: What is the most rewarding part of your job?
TM: Knowing that I did the right thing for this patient at a time when they needed someone to be there is very rewarding for me. However, I find teaching the high school students ways to avoid being in situations that could possibly lead to sexual assault, has become one of the most fulfilling areas for me. I started out volunteering in 2006 at my old high school, teaching sexual assault awareness to the senior high students during their health classes and continue to this day. Over the years, I have taught thousands of young people and still get some past students, now adults, that come up to me in the grocery store or out in public thanking me for the lessons I gave them.
Q: What is something about your job that would surprise people if they learned it?
TM: I think with any type of nursing, some patients just get into your soul and you will never forget them. We sometimes cry after a hard case, especially if it involves children. I have a great group of forensic nurse friends who are there if I need to vent and we beautifully support each other.
Q: If someone wants to become a Forensic Nurse, where do they start and what words of encouragement do you have?
TM: First, every county in the state of New Jersey must have a forensic nursing program and most are run through the prosecutor’s office in that county, so you could contact the coordinator in your county for more information. Generally, you would have to be a licensed RN in N.J. for at least two years and have taken the necessary didactic and hands-on clinical training to become licensed by the N.J. Board of Nursing as a Forensic Nurse Examiner. Orientation within each county is specific, but here in Camden County, after passing a required background check, it typically takes a nurse about a year to pass orientation before they act as an independent forensic nurse contactor for the prosecutor’s office.
Q: What message would you share with the young women of the world?
TM: Well, I teach all my students but especially the women in my classes, to trust your gut! If something doesn’t feel right or your body starts to tell you something is off, it probably is. Women historically have been raised to be people pleasers and not make a fuss and just go along. I can’t tell you how many victims I have seen over the years that told me they “just knew something wasn’t right” about that person or situation, but ignored their intuition, went along and it didn’t end well for them and if they only listened to the inner voice the outcome would be totally different.
Q: Is there anything you’d like to add?
TM: My husband and I have been married for almost 40 years and I know my greatest accomplishment is raising three boys into real decent men who truly love and respect women. Not much more I could ask for!