Forensic Nurse


A forensic nurse combines the advanced knowledge of a clinical nursing specialist with a familiarity with the legal system and evidence collection.  This is a new designation in nursing and sometimes the Forensic nurse may have to help employers understand the unique assets a Forensic nurse specialist brings to a team.

Forensic Nurse Job Description & Scope of Practice

The duties of a forensic nurse depend upon the employment setting. Forensic nurses are often on call or full time employees in emergency rooms. Victims of violence in particular sexual assault may be difficult to approach and require a point on contact.

The forensic nurse empowers and supports the patient while addressing their health needs. They provide a safe point of contact for the patient with physicians, law enforcement and sometimes with family. A forensic nurse is trained in evidence collection techniques and in some cases may be called to testify in court as to the condition of the patient and the evidence collected. Patient statements and evidence must be appropriately documented for medical as well as legal reasons.

Family violence nurses are a subspecialty of the forensic nursing field. These advanced practice nurses focus upon abused family members, children, and the elderly. They are trained to collect evidence and build a rapport with victims of family violence.

Often forensic nurses will conduct public education classes helping raise public awareness about domestic violence, victim issues and sexual assault prevention.

Forensic nurses are also employed a death investigators in some states. These nurses determine the time and cause of death using traditional techniques including speaking to witnesses and conducting medical examinations.

How to Become an Forensic Nurse

The role of a forensic nurse might sound glamorous but the schooling required is intense. The type of nurse best able to fulfill the challenging role of a forensic nurse is empathetic, logical, with strong deductive reasoning skills, and of course highly trained. Although not strictly required the forensic nurse usually has an advanced degree in nursing as well as specialized certification in their sub-specialty. Four year Registered Nurses can take sexual assault nursing continuing education courses which lead to certification. However, an  Advanced degree nurse usually has the edge in any job in forensic nursing.

Forensic Nurse  Education Requirements, Certification, and Schooling Programs

  • Hold a valid RN license, A Bachelor Science in Nursing is the minimum requirement and advanced practice nurse with a Master of Science in forensic nursing is most often preferred for positions such as Death Investigators and legal medical expert witnesses.
  • The American College of Forensic Examiners International (ACFEI) certifies nurses with the Certified Forensic Nurse (CFN) credential. Applicants must have three years experience as a registered nurse and 40 contact hours in the area of forensics. Before taking the examination, applicants must also complete 15 hours continuing education in forensics. Applicants may also participate in a training program provided through certain universities and American Forensic Nurses (AFN). Training and certification ensures that nurses are proficient in areas such as sexual assault, specimen collection, forensic photography, and death investigation. Certification is not required to work in supervised forensic nurse positions. However, certification is required for career advancement.There are multiple sexual assault forensic courses for nurses. Family Violence Forensics, Death Investigation, and Psychiatric Forensic Nurses all have certification programs which can help ready them for employment in the field. The different certifications depend on your specialization. Options include: Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE), Forensic Nurse Investigator, Forensic Clinical Nurse Specialist, Forensic Psychiatric Nurse, Legal Nurse Consultant, Forensic Gerontology Specialist, Correctional Nursing Specialist, Nurse Coroner or Death Investigator, Forensic Nurse Examiner (FNE), Sexual Assault Forensic Examiner (SAFE), Sexual Assault Nurse Clinician (SANC) and Sexual Assault Examiner (SAE).

Forensic Nurse Salary and Career Outlook

As forensic nursing becomes more widely known it grows in acceptance. The job outlook for nurses is predicted to grow by around 21% over the next 8 years according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The certified forensic nurse specialist can expect to earn around 1.5 times as much as a nurse with similar education. However, the forensic nurse for sexual assault and family violence can expect to be on call due to the unpredictability of those situations. A forensic nurse employed as death examiner may earn around $70,000 per year depending upon the area and employing agency.

There are a variety of specific career paths that nurses may pursue with the field of forensic nursing.

Forensic Nurse Career: Forensic Nurse Investigators

If you have an investigative nature and would like to utilize your nursing experience to help solve crime, the career of forensic nursing may be a great option.

Forensic nurses within this specialty investigate the circumstances surrounding and unexpected and/or violent death. Forensic nurse investigators are usually employed by coroner’s or medical examiner’s offices and examine the body of crime victims, assist with autopsies, as well as collect and evaluate evidence to determine the cause of death.

Forensic Nursing Career: Corrections Nursing Specialist

Correctional nursing specialists provide care to those who have been detained by the courts for a variety of offenses and are in jail, prison, juvenile detention centers, and other correctional facilities. Within these settings, correctional nurse specialists may perform basic medical exams, treat patients with chronic conditions, and administer prescribed medications.

Forensic Nursing Career: Forensic Clinical Nurse Specialists

Forensic Clinical Nurse Specialists hold a Master of Science in Nursing degree (MSN) or doctoral degree and provide expert clinical care, research, and education in various types of forensics settings. Forensic clinical nurse specialists work in hospital emergency rooms, sexual assault programs, psychiatric forensic treatment programs, and as members of criminal investigation teams.

Forensic Nursing Career: Forensic Gerontology Specialists

Forensic gerontology nursing specialists help investigate incidences of elder abuse or neglect and typically work within hospitals settings, nursing care facilities, and other settings dedicated to the well-being of the elderly.

Forensic Nursing Career: Forensic Psychiatric Nurses

Forensic psychiatric nurses specialize in caring for offenders with histories of mental illness, as well as social and behavioral disorders. They evaluate patients and provide rehabilitative treatment within the hospital or supportive residence. Forensic psychiatric nurses may also assist and treat victims of crime who are experiencing some type of emotional trauma.

Forensic Nursing Career: Sexual Assault Nurse Specialist

The majority of forensic nurses work as sexual assault nurse examiners (SANEs). These nurses offer compassionate and supportive care to victims of sexual assault. Forensic nurse specialists participate in advanced training and are prepared to evaluate the extent of injuries that sexual assault victims have suffered, locate and assess evidence of the crime, and provide referrals so that the victim may obtain needed counseling. Forensic nurse specialists may also serve as expert witnesses during criminal proceedings and offer testimony based on their documented findings.

Forensic Nursing Education

To begin a nursing career as a forensic nurse you will need to hold a current and unrestricted registered nursing (RN) license. You may also obtain a master of science in nursing degree with a specialization in forensic nursing. Most graduate programs take two years to complete if you attend on a full time basis.

If you wish to work as a SANE you will need to take additional specialized training that will prepare to work with victims of sexual abuse and rape. To qualify to site for the SANE exam you will need to have accrued at least two years experience working as a licensed RN, hold an active and unrestricted RN license, and have earned an MSN degree. You may obtain certification as a SANE-A (Adolescent/Adult) or SANE-P (Pediatric). Pediatric certification will require three years professional nursing experience before application. Both credentials are earned through the Forensic Nursing Certification Board: FNSB).

Career Outlook

The demand for forensic nurses is growing as there is expanding recognition in the legal system of the value these nurses bring to the health and well-being of sexual assault crime victims. This is a great time to begin a career and help chart the course for the expansion of this rewarding nursing specialty.

Forensic Nurse Salary

As per Payscale.com, the median hourly salary for forensic nurses is $24. But can rise to $70. per hour depending on years of experience, education, certifications, and geographic location.

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