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Forensic Nurse Career Guide

If you want to go beyond the typical duties of a nurse and long to approach your work from a law enforcement angle, a forensic nursing job might be for you. Forensic nursing is a cross between a healthcare profession and a judicial system profession. Forensic nurses perform duties that are much more specialized than nurses typically perform. They have a variety of roles, including evaluating and caring for victims of assault, domestic abuse, child and elder abuse, neglect, and sexual crimes. As they treat the victim, forensic nurses collect and secure evidence. The nurses must ensure they follow the chain of custody, so the evidence reaches the authorities after being documented. Forensic nurses may be asked to testify in court about the medical information and the evidence that they have collected. The biggest sub-specialty in forensic nursing, according to the American Forensic Association, is sexual assault. Other forensic nursing subspecialties include death investigations, medical-legal consulting, and forensic psychiatric nursing.

Forensic Nurse Career Description, Duties, and Common Tasks

Forensic nurses usually work in hospitals and are often “on call” for the police force. Some nurses work with non-profit organizations that serve victims of crime by providing free or low-cost medical care. Many forensic nurses work in the emergency room of hospitals. During a shift, forensic nurses may collect bullets and other evidence, from a victim, that would help with an investigation. Forensic nurses store clothing the victim was wearing, so it can be evaluated. They photograph and document the victims’ injuries. Forensic nurses often work with the medical examiner when a victim dies.

How to Become a Forensic Nurse: Requirements and Other Qualifications

Aspiring forensic nurses start the process by enrolling in an associate’s or a bachelor’s degree program in nursing. Due to the increased demand for forensic nursing, many nursing schools are now offering forensic science-related courses, such as victimology, forensic mental health, and perpetrator theory. Universities also offer certification programs, often for those who have already earned their Registered Nurses (RN) license, in which nurses can take specialized courses leading to certification. Nurses should expect to complete continuing education credits, based on their state’s requirements, to renew their nursing license.

Forensic Nurse Job Training

Prospective forensic nurses must complete training in the handling and collecting of evidence, including hairs, fibers, and swabs of fluids for DNA testing. Forensic nursing programs traditionally require students to complete field experiences in hospitals and other settings.

Other Helpful Skills and Experience

Forensic nurses can obtain certification from the Forensic Nursing Certification Board (FNCB), which is recommended but not required. However, certification illustrates a nurse’s professionalism and commitment to the profession. Nurses can currently be certified by the FNCB after passing the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner for Adults and Adolescents exam or the Sexual Assault Examiner for pediatrics exam, each of which is given each year in May and in October.

Examples of Possible Job Titles for this Career

  • Death examiner
  • Forensic clinical nurse practitioner
  • Forensic nurse investigator
  • Legal nurse consultant

Career Opportunities and Employers

Forensic nursing is an expanding field which opens new doors for nurses who may work in one of a variety of specialized roles, such as the newly emerging child abuse nurse examiner, psychiatric forensic nursing, corrections nursing, and as a forensic clinical nurse specialist. These specialized nurses work in a range of settings, including hospitals, schools, prisons and jails, pediatrics, clinics, and tissue and organ donation departments.

Forensic Nursing Salary and Outlook

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that all registered nurses, including forensic nurses, earn a median salary of $65,470 per year.1 The forensic nursing jobs outlook is expected to grow steadily over the next decade due to many nurses reaching retirement age, increasing numbers of crime victims being treated at hospitals, and the desire of law enforcement to strengthen cases against criminals, in which forensic nurses play a part. The BLS projects employment of registered nurses to grow 19% from 2012-2022 with 526,800 new job openings during this period.1

Frequently Asked Questions About This Career

Are there specific areas I can specialize in as a forensic nurse?

Yes. Nurses can specialize in such forensic nursing areas as child abuse, correctional nursing, death investigation, expert medical witness, gerontology (investigating elder abuse), and sexual assault.

What certification is available?

Nurses can earn SANE (Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner) certification which illustrates their expertise of and experience with sexual assault victims. Certification is not necessary.

What are the requirements for certification?

Nurses must have their RN license, have a minimum of two years of experience as an RN, and must pass the SANE exam to earn certification.

Additional Resources

Schools with Criminal Justice and Nursing Degrees

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Related Careers

Interested in a career similar to forensic nursing? Check out these related careers:

1. Bureau of Labor Statistics: http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/registered-nurses.htm
2. American Forensic Nurses: http://amrn.com