Answer: Yes, many colleges and universities offer forensic nursing programs that can be completed online for those who already have a nursing license. Depending on the program students may be required to complete a clinical experience or practicum, but this can typically be arranged in the student’s local area.
A forensic nursing degree or certificate leads to a specialized career path within nursing that involves applying medical knowledge to the investigation of crimes. Forensic nurses, who are also known as forensic nurse investigators (FNIs), fulfill several different roles from investigating crime scenes to providing expert testimony in court. Forensic nursing degrees are usually advanced degrees designed for those who have already earned a bachelor’s degree and are working as registered nurses or nurse practitioners. Accordingly, most master’s degree programs for prospective forensic nurse investigators require applicants to have a valid nursing license as well as at least one year of nursing experience.
CJDS Fact: Forensic nursing is a relatively new specialization that was proposed in the late 1980s. The field continues to evolve along with advances in medicine and technology.
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Forensic Nursing Training and Courses
Forensic nursing programs are often certificate programs that are taken after a nurse completes an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in nursing and earns their initial nursing license. Many schools offer master’s degrees or post-baccalaureate certificates in forensic nursing. Some schools offer undergraduate nursing degree programs with a forensic nursing concentration. Courses for forensic nurses focus on the identification of trauma when examining patients, as well as the use of investigative medical interviews with patients and their families or caregivers. Other classes are designed to help forensic nursing degree students assist attorneys in establishing whether there are injuries that can be pursued in criminal, personal injury, or neglect cases. Students also learn how to effectively collaborate with law enforcement and social service agencies.
Common courses in a forensic nursing program include:
- Forensic Nursing Foundations
- Crime Scene Investigation and Forensics
- Forensic Methodologies
- Evidence Collection and Preservation
- Death Investigation
Traditional Forensic Nursing Degree Programs
Cleveland State University awards the Master of Science in Nursing – Forensic Nursing to students who complete its 34-credit hour graduate program. The degree may be pursued on either a thesis or non-thesis track. Typical courses in the program include Forensic Methodologies, Evidence-Based Practice, Nursing Research, and Ethics for Advanced Nursing Practice. Students are also permitted the option to pursue independent study, of up to six credit hours, in topics of interest. Courses are typically taken in a sequenced order to help ensure that students graduate on time. To be admitted, prospective students must have an active RN license, a bachelor’s degree in nursing with a GPA of at least 3.0, and have taken at least one college statistics course in the past 10 years.
Xavier University offers a Master of Science in Nursing – Forensics degree that prepares graduates for a variety of roles within the forensic nursing field. Students complete 10 credit hours of focused forensic nursing courses in addition to the 26 credit hour MSN core, for a total of 36 credit hours to earn the degree. The forensic nursing courses include Criminalistics, Psych/Social/Legal Aspects of Forensics, and Interprofessional Collaboration. Xavier University also offers a dual master’s degree, the Master of Science in Nursing/Master of Science in Criminal Justice, that can provide the skills and knowledge needed to be an effective forensic nurse. This dual degree program requires 46 credit hours to complete and compliments the MSN in Forensics program with additional subject-related courses. Xavier University’s MSN program is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE).
Online Forensic Nursing Degree Programs
Duquesne University offers a Master of Science in Nursing – Forensic Nursing that can be completed almost entirely online. Students enrolled in the program learn the principles of advanced practice nursing with a specific focus on their applications to forensics. Those enrolled in the program may study on either a part-time or full-time schedule, and all students are assigned a faculty mentor. The forensic nursing MSN requires either 36 or 39 credit hours to complete. Though nearly all courses are offered online, students must complete a one-week campus residency, which typically takes place in the second year of study. Students interested in pursuing Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) certification through the International Association of Forensic Nurses may be interested in Duquesne’s online SANE course. Duquesne University is also one of few schools in the US to offer doctoral programs in forensic nursing, with programs that lead to either a PhD or Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) with a forensics focus.
The Master of Science in Nursing – Forensic Nursing at Fitchburg State University can be earned entirely online. The course of study requires 39 credit hours and can be completed in as few as three years. Students may study on a full- or part-time basis and are allowed up to six years to complete the degree requirements. Classes in the program include academic and clinical learning in such areas as victims’ care, caring for perpetrators, and forensic nursing interventions. Applicants to the program must have a bachelor’s degree, preferably in nursing, as well as a current RN license and at least one year of experience. Graduates are prepared for advanced nursing practice in the forensic field as well as for doctoral study. The university also offers a 21-credit graduate certificate in forensic nursing for those who already hold an MSN in another specialty. The MSN in Forensic Nursing at Fitchburg State University is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE).
Forensic Nursing Job Description
Forensic nurses play an important role at the intersection of healthcare and criminal justice. They are trained to assist with the medical aspects of forensic investigations, such as collecting evidence from a crime scene or preparing a rape kit for a sexual assault victim. Forensic nurses are also trained to identify victims of abuse in hospitals and other healthcare settings. These professionals may testify in court as expert witnesses or as participants in a criminal investigation. There are several specialties within the forensic nursing field, which include death investigations, sexual assault examinations, and legal nurse consulting.
A forensic nursing degree may help students get started in careers such as:
- Death Investigator
- Forensic Nurse
- Legal Nurse Consultant
- Medico-legal Investigator
- Nurse Coroner
- Substance Abuse and Behavioral Counselor
- Victim’s Advocate
Forensic Nursing Professional Certification
In addition to earning an advanced professional nursing license from a master’s degree program, there are various national professional certification options for forensic nurses. The American College of Forensic Examiners offers an examination-based Certified Forensic Nurse (CFN) credential to qualified nurses with an RN license, training in forensics, and at least three years of experience. The International Association of Forensic Nurses (IAFN) offers the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) certification in the areas of Adult/Adolescent (SANE-A) and Pediatric (SANE-P), both of which require candidates to complete an approved SANE course and pass an exam. Highly accomplished forensic nurses with a graduate degree may also be interested in the IAFN’s Advanced Forensic Nursing (AFN-BC) credential, which is awarded based on a portfolio assessment.
Forensic Nursing Salary and Job Outlook
In addition to law enforcement agencies and social service agencies, forensic nursing degree graduates can be found in law firms dealing with personal injury cases or elder care issues. They may also work in the emergency care departments of hospitals or with human rights organizations. Other job roles for forensic nursing grads include legal nurse consultant, forensic nurse investigator, or nurse coroner. While registered nurses earn a median salary of about $70,000 per year, the salary for forensic nurses can be higher because of their advanced degree(s) and specialized responsibilities.1 With a master’s or doctoral degree, nurse practitioners earn an annual average of $110,930.2 Job growth for registered nurses is expected to reach 15% through 2026, while nurse practitioners can expect job growth of 31% – much faster than the national average for all occupations.1,2
- International Association of Forensic Nurses – Provides continuing education, networking, and certification opportunities for forensic nurses.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I earn a forensic nursing degree online?
How long does it take to earn a forensic nursing degree?
Answer: The length of time it takes to earn a degree in forensic nursing varies based on whether the student is full- or part-time and the individual program. However, many forensic nursing certificates can be completed in as little as one year. Master’s degree programs in forensic nursing typically take two to three years with full-time study.
1. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, Registered Nurses: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/registered-nurses.htm
2. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/nurse-anesthetists-nurse-midwives-and-nurse-practitioners.htm
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