Forensic nurses specialize in caring for patients who are the victims of trauma, violence, and abuse. They have a foundation in the criminal justice system as well as nursing. They are on the front lines when victims of crimes need help the most.
Those who are interested in forensic nursing should have an interest in not only direct patient care, but also in being a patient advocate. They should also have an interest in criminal justice and the legal system. Strong attention to detail is also a quality valued in forensic nursing. Forensic nurses are exposed to emotionally draining and potentially disturbing cases, so having a stable work-life balance and support from family and friends is essential.
Completion of an accredited nursing program is required. Aspiring forensic nurses can obtain an associate's degree in nursing (ADN) or a bachelor's degree in nursing (BSN). While a master's degree in nursing (MSN) is not required, it may make a nurse more hirable. Additionally, graduate degrees are required for certain types of forensic nursing certifications.
After completion of a nursing program, successful completion of the NCLEX-RN exam is required for licensure as a registered nurse.
A nurse may choose to practice as a registered nurse or advance to nurse practitioner specializing in forensic nursing.
Any Certifications or Credentials Needed?
Obtaining certification in forensic nursing is highly recommended. While not necessarily required, certification demonstrates a commitment to the profession and a higher standard of care within the field of forensic nursing.
According to the International Association of Forensic Nurses, there are several options for certification including:
- Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner - Adult (SANE-A)
- Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner - Pediatric (SANE-P)
The courses in this program includes 41 and 43 hours of continuing education, respectively. In addition to the online course work, clinical preceptorship is required for hands-on education.
Registered nurses and advanced practice nurses can also complete a formal forensic nurse specialist program. The American Institute of Health Care Professionals offers comprehensive training in forensic nursing to include 250 contact hours of continuing education. The requirements for this program include:
- Completion of formal training as a registered nurse
- A current/ valid RN license
Graduate degree nurses (those with an MSN) can obtain a certificate in Advanced Forensic Nursing, and apply for board certification. According to the American Nurses Credentialing Center, the requirements include:
- Hold a current, active RN license
- Two years of full-time practice (or equivalent) as a registered nurse
- A graduate degree (master's, postgraduate certificate, or doctoral degree) in nursing or forensic nursing
- A minimum of 2,000 practice hours in forensic nursing within the last three years
- Completion of a minimum of 30 continuing education hours in forensic nursing within the last three years
- Fulfillment of two additional professional development categories
Forensic nurses can work in a variety of patient care areas. In the hospital setting, forensic nurses can work in the emergency room or urgent care departments assisting with trauma cases (intentional and unintentional trauma), injuries, and assault/ abuse.
In the community setting, forensic nurses can assist coroners, medical examiners, or pathologists.
Forensic nurses have many duties that may differ based on where they work. Forensic nurses basically wear two hats - a nurse hat and a law enforcement hat. This unique, dual role ensures that victims of a crime receive the best quality care during a very emotionally and physically trying time. Victims of sexual assault or battery may not trust caregivers, or they may be afraid to report to law enforcement. Forensic nurses on the front lines can act as both caregiver and liaisons, limiting the amount of interactions which, in turn, can help build trust with victims.
Forensic nurses who work in emergency departments/urgent may:
- Take a thorough patient history
- Collect evidence such as debris, bodily fluids, bullets
- Perform physical examinations
- Photograph injuries/ evidence
- Perform wound care
- Interview the patient and/or family
- Report victims of assault/abuse to local law enforcement and Child/ Adult Protective Services
Forensic nurses working in the community may:
- Take blood/ tissue samples
- Respond to the scene of accident/death
- Photograph injuries/wounds
- Photograph crime scenes
- Collect evidence
- Assist with autopsies
- Act as a deputy coroner
What Are the Roles and Duties of a Forensic Nurse?
Whether forensic nurses are employed in the hospital or community setting, working with deceased or living patients, their roles are the same. These include:
- Collect data and complete thorough documentation
- Act as a liaison between victims of assault and their families
- Act as a liaison with law enforcement and social services
- Testify in court
- Provide comfort to victims and families
- Provide resources to victims and families including mental health counseling, shelters, etc.
Forensic nursing is a relatively new specialty. The unique role of a forensic nurse acting as a caregiver and crime specialist has led to many new career opportunities. According to payscale.com, forensic nurses can earn between $46,509 to $90,960 annually. This may differ based on credentials, state, city, and organization.