UNM Today

Contact Us
Current Issue
Editorial Policies
Previous Issues
Publication Dates

Subscribe to
email edition



Campus News
Your faculty and staff news since 1965

Special Spotlight Insert

Nurse counsels on violent death

By Carolyn Gonzales

Paul T. ClementsA recent news account describes a four-year-old boy who witnessed the stabbing death of his mother. That child is typical of the patients Paul T. Clements, Ph.D., sees daily.

Clements is board certified as an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse and is a distinguished fellow in the International Association of Forensic Nurses, so named because of his work with children who witness violence, crime and sudden death.

“I’ve often said I could write a book titled, ‘Why Did My Dad Kill My Mom?’” said Clements, a forensic nurse. The question was actually posed to him by a three-year-old who witnessed his father shoot his pregnant mother in the stomach.

After the news accounts fade away, there are those left in the aftermath, said Clements, referring to his work as “living forensics.” Since 1993, Clements has worked with more than 1,000 families of murder victims.

“Reaction to sudden traumatic death is very different from death due to illness. Although the family of a cancer patient may not believe today is the day their loved one will die, it is vastly different than having a loved one ripped from your life violently,” he said.

However, loss is loss, he said. Similarities and differences exist regarding how people cope with the death of a loved one. “Gender, ethnicity and culture all play a part,” he said. Clements said that when working with murder victims, it’s important for them to understand that no matter what, no one has the right to kill.

“I worked with a family of a murdered gang victim. Even though they knew he was engaged in high-risk behavior they needed to know that no one has the right to take someone else’s life. The families are victimized again by the stigma associated with the circumstances of their child’s death,” he said.

Forensic nurses are at the forefront in addressing healthcare response to violence, said Clements. “These are the people who have changed the way rape kits are taken, for example,” he said, adding that they also provide victims with resources and referral and are called upon to testify in court.

Clements, who came to the UNM College of Nursing in January 2001, earned a Ph.D. in psychiatric forensic nursing from the University of Pennsylvania in 2000, and a master’s in child and family psychiatric nursing from the same institution in 1993.

He holds certification as a clinical nurse specialist in child and adolescent psychiatric and mental health nursing.

Prior to joining the UNM faculty, Clements was a clinical lecturer at the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing from 1994-2001 as well as adjunct faculty at Wilmington College’s Division of Nursing.

Clements worked with adolescents in a psychiatric hospital in Delaware while earning the graduate degree in nursing. It was there that he had his first experiences with both victims and youthful offenders.

“Although diminutive in stature, children are not limited in their emotional capacity. What may differ, however, is the way children think about the victim, feel about the murder and express grief,” he said.

Children and young people are both victims and perpetrators, said Clements. One patient was a 16-year-old who beat his girlfriend unconscious.

“The boy told me that his father and grandfather before him both beat their wives and he thought they were doing the women a favor and keeping them out of trouble. He said that while his friends’ mothers were out having affairs and bring home AIDS, his mother was at home and dinner was on the table,” said Clements.

During treatment Clements helped the young man to understand that individuals have the right to make their own decisions. “He needed to see what it was like from the other person’s perspective. Also, he needed to understand that it’s hard enough to run our own lives without emotional exhaustion from trying to control someone else,” he said.

Kids suffer from bad decisions adults make, said Clements, but they can come through it positively. His greatest rewards are the success stories. “Every kid I ever saw who was able to reinvest in life, go on to college and make something out of his life after experiencing a horrible death, trauma and depression, that makes it all worthwhile,” he said.