Violent crime is on the rise in the U.S., making it more likely that you – or someone you love – could become a victim.
Nursing is a tough job that can take an emotional toll. Forensic nurses’ have added responsibilities like gathering evidence and testifying in court when requested. This can add another layer of anxiety. Nurses who choose to work in forensics may find themselves in a stressful environment that takes a mental and physical toll. Nursing professionals who choose this path will want to establish and stick with self-care routines to help them cope.
In this article we will explore the following:
- What do forensic nurses do?
- Where do forensic nurses work?
- What education is needed to become a forensic nurse?
- What are the licensure and clinical experience requirements?
- What are the certificate programs for forensic nurses?
- What are the job and salary outlooks for forensic nurses?
What do forensic nurses do?
Forensic nurses are the healthcare providers who help care for victims of violent crime. They attend to any injuries while collecting vital evidence to provide to law enforcement for prosecution purposes. Forensic nurses also work with pathologists and coroners to determine the cause of death and identify vital statistics and epidemiology trends. Forensic nurses work with crime victims to gather evidence, treat injuries, and provide expert testimony in court when needed. It is unique in that it blends healthcare and criminal justice professions, allowing nurses to have a double impact on the lives of those they serve.
The International Association of Forensic Nurses (IAFN) lists the following as job responsibilities for forensic nurses:
- Gather evidence from the victim’s body. If you have ever watched a crime drama on TV, you likely have seen forensic experts collecting evidence from deceased victims. Forensic nurses do the same thing with living victims. For instance, they may be tasked with collecting semen samples from rape victims and photographing injuries suffered by domestic abuse victims. They must use special techniques to collect and preserve evidence so that it is admissible in court. For victims, it is less traumatizing to have a healthcare professional gather evidence than a police officer.
- Provide compassionate care to victims. Forensic nurses do not simply collect evidence for presentation to the authorities. They offer emotional and physical support to victims. This can include listening to a victim’s story about what happened to them. Forensic nurses may refer victims to additional support resources for continued emotional healing.
- Testify in court when requested. Forensic nurses can be called to testify in court about their findings. They may be asked questions directly related to the evidence, as well as those pertaining to the victim’s state of mind during the exam and treatment. They can be a valuable witness for prosecutors, and help victims get the justice they deserve.
Where do forensic nurses work?
Forensic nurses work with victims of abuse, domestic violence, neglect, and sexual assault. They also work with courts of law, law enforcement, psychiatric patients, and public health organizations. Their extensive knowledge makes them ideal candidates to work in anti-violence programs, coroner’s offices, correctional facilities, and psychiatric institutions.
It is not uncommon for forensic nurses to work on the scene of community crises and mass disasters. Communities where floods and other natural disasters, or places where crises school or workplace shootings have occurred, can benefit from the expertise and compassion of forensic nurses.
What education is needed to become a forensic nurse?
The first step in becoming a forensic nurse is to earn your nursing degree from an accredited college or nursing program. There are three paths you can choose:
- Graduate from a two-year program with an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN)
- Graduate from a three-year program with a diploma in nursing
- Graduate from a four-year college or university program with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN).
In addition to the prerequisites all nurses need to graduate, some of the forensic-specific courses you can expect to take include:
|Crime scene investigation and forensics|
|Crime scene investigation|
|Forensic nursing foundations|
Earning a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), or completing a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program, is not required to work in the field. However, both can open doors to more rewarding and lucrative careers in forensic nursing. Advanced degrees allow you to work in education or research, and in supervisory roles in some healthcare facilities.
What are the licensure and clinical experience needed?
Once you graduate from your chosen nursing program, you will need to earn your professional licensure. Sitting for the NCLEX exam is the only way to earn your nursing license. It is the nationwide exam for all nursing professionals in Canada and the United States.
The NCLEX exam tests nurses’ knowledge to determine if they can practice as entry-level nursing professionals. It consists of between 75 and 265 questions that require you to apply what you learned in nursing school to real-life scenarios. It measures critical thinking skills in addition to nursing-specific expertise.
Clinical nursing experience is required by most forensic nursing employers. While every employer is different, most prefer at least two years of relevant experience in the field.
What are the certificate programs for forensic nurses?
While not required, it is worth the effort to earn your certification in forensic nursing. Making the commitment to become certified indicates to employers that you possess expert knowledge in forensic nursing. The International Association of Forensic Nurses offers two certifications for sexual assault nurse examiners (SANEs): SANE-A for working with adults and SANE-P for working with children.
In addition to requiring at least two years of experience before sitting for the exam, the IAFN also has other conditions nurses must meet when applying for certification. You can find the complete list of requirements on the IAFN website, plus information on how to register for the exam.
What are the job and salary outlooks for forensic nurses?
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not differentiate between regular RNs and forensic nurses since both require the same level of education and licensure. According to the BLS, RNs are among the nursing professions most in demand, with an anticipated 7% increase in growth between now and 2029.
Forensic nurses earn an average annual salary of $62,253. The highest wage earners can anticipate a $115,296 annual salary. The top-paying locations for forensic nursing include:
- San Francisco, CA – $78,675
- Fremont, CA – $75,571
- San Jose, CA – $73,935
- Alexandria, VA – $73,390
- Oakland, CA – $73,135
- Tanaina, AK – $72,954
Looking for forensic nursing positions near you? Browse our nursing jobs in the U.S. to find the perfect fit.
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