Sheila Early wins 2019 YWCA Women of Distinction Award

Lifetime achievement in prevention of violence against women

BCIT Sheila Early nominated for YWCA Women of Distinction Award
Sheila Early, a long-time Forensic Nursing Educator at BCIT, is a recipient of the 2019 YWCA Women of Distinction Award.

BCIT is delighted to share that Sheila Early, a long-time Forensic Nursing Educator at BCIT, is a recipient of the 2019 YWCA Women of Distinction Award in the Health and Wellness category.

Sheila is recognized for her impressive work as a Forensic Nursing Educator and her unwavering commitment to delivering, promoting, and advocating for healthy lives and communities.

Specifically, Sheila single-handedly catalyzed significant, meaningful, and compassionate change in care and justice for sexual assault survivors. She founded the first Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner program for Canada in 1993 and created a new respected Forensic Health Sciences Graduate Certificate Program at BCIT.

Sheila is one of 66 outstanding women leaders who have been recognized for achievements in improving the well-being of individuals in communities across Metro Vancouver. Congratulations to all award recipients and nominees!

2019 YWCA Women of Distinctino Award 2019 credit YWCA Metro Vancouver
Congratulations to all YWCA Women of Distinction Award recipients and nominees. Credit YWCA Metro Vancouver


Sheila Early BCIT Forensic Nurse
Sheila Early has pioneered forensic nursing in BC.

Filling a gap in the healthcare system for victims of assault victims

In the 1970s, Sheila noticed a gap in the healthcare system while working as an Emergency Nurse in BC. Emergency rooms in hospitals were not the most welcoming place for assault victims. Women who sought care for sexual violence often had to endure long waits before receiving care.

This gap in the healthcare system led Sheila to open the first sexual assault clinic in BC and to start a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) program for Canada in 1993. This program trained nurses to gather legal forensic evidence while providing supportive, confidential care to sexual violence patients.

Sheila’s work to improve the healthcare system didn’t stop here.

Physicians at the time were mostly men. Having a female nurse’s presence in the room provided more confidential comfort to vulnerable patients who were mostly women and to serve as professional support for the physician. This prompted Sheila to transition the responsibility of care for sexual assault victims from physicians to nurses.

SEE MORE: Exposing human trafficking in Canada: Mobilizing the healthcare sector to help victims

Leaving a legacy in forensic nursing

To further share her wealth of knowledge and collaborate with other forensic nurses, Sheila co-founded the Forensic Nurses’ Society of Canada in 2007 and became President of the International Association of Forensic Nurses in 2014, the first non-US citizen in the role. Additionally, Sheila’s leadership and passion has led her to participate in two World Health Organization sessions, and to build out an internationally recognized Forensic Nursing Program at BCIT.

This program started as Canada’s first classroom-delivered specialty certificate program in forensic health sciences but in 2017, Sheila successfully converted it into a Graduate Certificate that ladders into a Masters in Nursing. Sheila also oversaw an expansion of the program to include training for human trafficking, child abuse, and other forms of interpersonal violence.

Though retried, Sheila’s legacy continues to inspire colleagues and students to provide the best possible care to victims of sexual assault.

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5 thoughts on “Sheila Early wins 2019 YWCA Women of Distinction Award”

  1. Sheila,

    The number of lives your work has positively impacted so many and will continue to be exponential over the coming years.

    You’ve lead teams internationally and locally; you’ve created an outstanding program that will bring new leaders to follow and build on your tremendous legacy for BC, Canada,and globally.

    So proud to have had the opportunity to be a small part of your journey.

  2. Congratulations on your announced presidency of CFNA recently. It is so inspiring to read how your career has blossomed over the years. Who would imagine where we would go, back in our university nurses’ training??I certainly was not thinking about careers!?
    My own path has been quite ordinary by comparison! I have practiced as a mostly rural public Health nurse in B. C.
    I am retired living on Vancouver Island now, but find myself remembering student nursing life and the training( mostly good for the ‘60’s) we all benefited from. So congratulations and very good wishes for a productive term. Sincerely, with good memories, Faye Hurrell(Godfrey).

  3. Sheila is a most deserving woman to receive this honour and recognition from the YWCA. Her courageous and pioneering work building the Forensic Nurse program in Canada is inspiring and visionary. In my role as Crown Counsel (trial prosecutor), I have worked with Sheila and those she trained to become Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners / Forensic Nurses for three decades. I am in awe of their passion and dedication to help victims of violence and to improve the criminal justice and health care system.


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